Overhead passenger loading? It’s possible in Clinton with WSF support, senator says

Overhead passenger loading at the Clinton ferry terminal isn’t an impossible dream, Washington’s District 10 senator said this week.

Money from the state Legislature could improve a congestion problem on Ferry Dock Road at the Clinton ferry terminal. Meanwhile

Overhead passenger loading at the Clinton ferry terminal isn’t an impossible dream, Washington’s District 10 senator said this week.

It’s a matter of galvanizing the community behind the proposal and convincing the state Department of Transportation, Ferries Division, to endorse the idea, said Sen. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, in an interview with The Record Thursday.

“It’s a matter of everyone coming together and singing from the same sheet of music,” Bailey said.

Get that to happen and support from legislators would likely follow, she said. But, overhead passenger loading in Clinton is a duet that may not be so easy. Though area and county leaders have supported the proposal for more than a decade, state ferries, strapped with funding headaches, has yet to commit to such a plan.

Renamed in 2008 the Jack Metcalf Ferry Terminal in honor of the late Clinton Congressman, the dock is the western end of the Mukilteo-to-Clinton ferry route, one of busiest in the state’s ferry system. Overhead passenger loading was once included in the facility’s planned redesign years ago, but it was abandoned for budgetary reasons. Island supporters haven’t forgotten the dream, however, and don’t want ferry leaders to either.

“We want that phase two to be kept on the table,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said.

Attempts Tuesday to reach Terminal Engineering Director Nicole McIntosh on Tuesday morning for this story were unsuccessful.

Price Johnson and Clinton community leaders say overhead loading is needed for a variety of reasons, from pedestrian safety issues to logistical challenges. The Clinton ferry route is the third busiest route in the system with 3.9 million riders annually including 470,500 foot passengers. The Edmond-Kingston route is second with 4 million riders including 549,500 foot passengers, and Seattle-Bainbridge is at the top with 6.3 million riders including 3 million foot passengers.

The latter routes have overhead loading at all four terminals, and Mukilteo will soon be included in the list. Ferries Division plans to spend $129 million of state and federal funds to relocate the terminal to the old Air Force oil tank farm. The new facility will include a bridge for walk-on passengers.

Along with the addition of the Tokitae, a new 141-car Olympic class that can carry 17 more cars than the 124-car Issaquah class boats that have long serviced the run, community leaders believe overhead passenger loading isn’t just a convenience. Dave Hoogerwerf, chairman of the Clinton Ferry Advisory Committee and co-chairman of the executive committee for ferry advisory committee throughout Puget Sound, said the Tokitae seems to generally run about five to 10 minutes behind schedule. Adding overhead loading on the Clinton end would save about three minutes.

“On a 30-minute run, three minutes is 10 percent,” he said.

Price Johnson said one concern is that the increased efficiency in Mukilteo may result in a “bottleneck” on the Clinton side. The community did get an unexpected surprise this year with $3 million in promised funding to help another congestion problem on the Clinton end, specifically Ferry Dock Road. Used for passenger drop off, the one-way road is located off Highway 525 just before Columbia Beach Drive and the ferry loading lanes.

The headache is that the road is so narrow that dropping someone off can stall traffic.

“Literally, to open the passenger door to let someone out it’s into the blackberry bushes,” Hoogerwerf said.

Complicating the problem is a tendency by commuters to use the street for free parking. The recent posting of signs highlighting the road’s intended use has helped, but a more permanent solution is needed.

Doug Cox, transportation planner for Island County, said the initial plan was to widen the road, which would require digging into the bluff, but other alternatives may be identified. It’s unclear when the improvements would actually be made.

The money was requested by Price Johnson and secured by Bailey in the state’s 2015-2017 biennium transportation budget, but only for $600,000 of the total $3 million needed. The remaining $2.4 million was earmarked for the 2017-2019 budget, which means it’s committed but not a guarantee, Cox said.

“That’s the rub,” he said.

The initial $600,000 will be used for preliminary engineering — planning and identifying a solution — and the later money, if delivered, would be used for construction. Though it’s a county road, the project would be handled by Ferries Division due to an old agreement with the county that put the responsibility of maintaining the tiny street with the state agency.

Cox also noted that the county recently landed a $120,000 state bicycle and pedestrian grant to make a series of improvements, such as adding bike lanes and widening cross walks, between the terminal and Deer Lake Road.

As for overhead passenger loading, it’s something county and community leaders would love to see in place, especially with the pending improvements in Mukilteo.

“It would be great to have it on the Clinton side as well,” Cox said.

 

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