Long awaited plans to improve the pickup and drop-off area at Ferry Dock Road in Clinton are likely breaking ground in May.
Construction over the summer, however, may throw a wrench into what ferry users are accustomed to during the busiest time of the year.
The $3 million project, funded by Gov. Jay Inslee and the state Legislator’s Connecting Washington program, is proposing an expansion of the road’s width to include a separate pickup and drop-off zone with nine stalls, a thru lane, a five-foot-wide sidewalk along the east side of the road, improved stormwater drainage and a pedestrian platform with a covered shelter and bench, according to a site plan provided by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).
Contending with blackberry bushes or navigating a narrow single-lane road with parked vehicles will no longer be an issue.
“It’s a very positive step forward,” said Doug Hofius, president of the Clinton Community Council. “The area that’s been there for years has problems because passengers are forced to wrangle with blackberries getting into their cars. That’s not a very reasonable way to commute or to pick up your friends visiting the island.”
Construction is expected to last six months if all goes according to plan, said Lei Lu, project engineer for Washington State Ferries.
“We’ll keep our fingers crossed,” Lu said.
But, the project happens to coincide when both foot and auto traffic on the Clinton-to-Mukilteo route peaks annually, according to the agency’s quarterly reports from the past decade. Lu said the construction’s timeframe is out of necessity; the program’s funding will expire if not used expediently.
Construction was originally scheduled for the summer of 2017, but was delayed by a year.
“It’s my understanding that the legislature gives the money and you have to deliver on time,” Lu said. “It’s not a regular transportation budget.”
Washington State Ferries and Washington State Department of Transportation officials say they are aware of the dilemma and are considering several different options to avoid fouling up travel schedules while construction is underway.
Unloading and picking up passengers on Columbia Beach Drive, which runs parallel to the Ferry Dock Road, is one possibility. Driving all the way down to the ferry dock, using the Humphrey Road Parking Lot located above the Clinton Ferry Terminal and flaggers directing traffic are also ideas.
The potential plans are subject to change during different phases of the project when areas of the road will be partially blocked or completely inaccessible, according to Hadley Rodero, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries.
Rodero said there will be a public meeting sometime in the near future that will give the community a chance to weigh in on the options and the scope of the project. It is yet to be scheduled, but is anticipated to be held sometime in the next several months.
Hofius anticipates issues with the temporary rerouting are inevitable.
“It will be something commuters and island residents and their visitors are going to have to contend with for a while,” Hofius said.
Hofius said the project came about after several years of “knocking on state officials’ doors” and letting them know the pick up, drop-off area isn’t on par with other facilities, including the Mukilteo terminal.
It’s not the only thing the council wants fixed.
There is a rough patch on the sidewalk adjacent to Highway 525 — about 50 feet down from the Humphrey Road parking lot staircase where sheet ice crossed the sidewalk — that caused two people to slip when it was cold, Hofius said.
A clogged drainage system is the source of the problem, according to WSDOT Planning and Engineering Services Manager Todd Carlson. The council requested it be fixed. Carlson said WSDOT is actively clearing the drain of leaves and other debris causing the troubles, while ferry workers are also regularly salting the pathway to prevent slipping.
Hofius said short-term maintenance will only put a band-aid on a wound that needs surgery. He believes a more extensive overhaul of the sidewalk is necessary.
“Hopefully they’ll bring some of the sidewalk area up to the same standards they’re planning for Ferry Dock Road,” Hofius said.
Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson agreed that a more permanent solution is needed. She said the Clinton terminal handles “millions” of travelers, while the county also contributes the highest percentage of commuters to the Puget Sound metropolitan area compared to nine nearby counties.
“The ferry system is actively encouraging the increase of walk-on passengers,” Price Johnson wrote in an email. “Making sure these people have a safe path to get to and from the ferry dock seems to be to be a very reasonable expectation, and I appreciate the efforts that the state is now taking to address this chronic hazard. A permanent fix is also needed.”