The Seattle region is blessed with a tremendous natural endowment which doubles as a crucial piece of transportation infrastructure - Puget Sound. State and Pierce County car ferries already ply the Sound, as do a mix of public and commercial, privately-operated passenger-only vessels in King, Snohomish, Whatcom and San Juan counties. For the Puget Sound region, passenger-only ferries on the namesake waterway and on sprawling Lake Washington could be an increasingly viable transportation choice given current road congestion. With sufficient foresight and political leadership, passenger-only ferries plus expanded bus rapid transit and commuter rail could really begin to deliver more and better choices for commuters, other local daytrippers, and visitors who wish to escape the tyranny of traffic.
To lay the groundwork for a new era of passenger-only ferries, the King County Ferry District was formed after the passage of enabling state legislation. Key goals were: 1) sustain the Vashon-Island to Seattle passenger-only ferry route which Washington State Ferries decided to no longer operate; 2) enhance and expand the county's popular Elliott Bay Water Taxi route between Seacrest Park in West Seattle and Pier 55 downtown; and 3) run several demonstration routes on Puget Sound and Lake Washington to see which ones draw enough ridership to become sustainable. The envisioned new routes - such as Kirkland-Seattle, Renton-Seattle and Des Moines-Seattle - would provide alternatives to congested road corridors such as SR 520 and I-5.
All that is now a big step closer to implementation. Yesterday, the county council - sitting as the ferry district - approved a property tax of just more than 5 cents per $1,000 assessed valuation, which will cost the owner of a $400,000 home another $22 annually. Combined with other funding sources already identified for boats and landside improvements, the newly-approved tax will pay for the county's passenger-only ferry plan. The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer report; likewise the West Seattle Herald.
Cascadia Center believes that the council's action is an important first step toward a comprehensive regional network of passenger-only ferries that must be carefully coordinated across county boundaries and supported by private as well as public investment. In written testimony we submitted to the county, we stated:
The first demonstration route will be on Lake Washington from Kirkland to Seattle (likely the University of Washington) and back, beginning in July, 2009. That would be followed by another demonstration route between Seattle and the South Puget Sound city and port of Des Moines, beginning in 2010. Additional demonstration routes, introduced one per year thereafter, would be: Kenmore-Seattle and Renton-Seattle on Lake Washington; and Shilshole Marina in northwest Seattle to downtown, via Puget Sound.
Meanwhile, beyond King County borders, there have been other recent and promising developments for passenger-only ferries.
It all spells a clear re-awakening among decision-makers to the mobility benefits of smaller, more nimble passenger-only ferries in Western Washington. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial board is enthused; the Kitsap Sun's editorialists, too. Seattle Times associate editorial page editor Lee Moriwaki writes that passenger-only ferries need to be understood as part of the broader public infrastructure that binds together our community.