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Key Players Divided On Foot-Ferry Financing

Original Article
A top transportation leader bucks her fellow senators and argues against state funding for the Southworth ‘triangle route.’

By Niki King, Sun Staff
March 30, 2005

With less than a month to go in this year’s legislative session, it’s still not clear whether lawmakers will fund a state-operated passenger-only ferry route between Southworth, Vashon Island and downtown Seattle.

Nor is it clear if they’ll back Kitsap Transit’s proposal to partner with private operators on a Southworth-to-downtown Seattle route.

After listening to lawmakers, private operators and industry insiders speak at a Puget Sound Passenger Ferry Coalition meeting Tuesday, a betting person would say it could go either way.

Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said she doesn’t support the state paying to get back into the passenger-only business, especially since the state ferry system still hasn’t recovered from the financial hit it took after the passage of Initiative 695 in 1999.

“I don’t want to look people in the eyes and say, ‘We’re increasing your fares by 6 percent, and by the way we’re going to start a new passenger-only ferry service.’ It’s unacceptable,” said Haugen, D-Camano Island.

The state released a study in February that suggested a triangle run between Southworth, Vashon Island and downtown Seattle could be started with $3 million in capital improvements and $450,000 in annual operating costs.

The state would use the 350-passenger mothballed ferries Chinook and Snohomish that once ran the Bremerton-to-Seattle route before it was axed in 2003.

While Haugen may not like the state’s proposal, several other key legislators do, including her counterpart in the House, Rep. Ed Murray, D-Seattle.

Murray didn’t speak at the meeting, but has promised to fight for the proposal.

Rep. Beverly Woods, R-Kingston, has always championed the ferry system staying in the passenger-only business.

She said she recognized the ferry system had funding challenges, but felt the state’s proposal was doable and a good use of resources.

“It makes sense,” she said.

Sen. Erik Poulsen, D-Seattle, said that whatever is done, it needed to be a lasting solution. It’s getting harder and harder to find funds for the state’s passenger-only ferry from Vashon to Seattle, he said.

“We need to look for certainty for the people of Vashon Island so we don’t have to keep having this fight,” he said.

The private operators said they preferred Kitsap Transit’s plan to develop a public/private partnership in South Kitsap, similar to the setup that operators are using on routes in Kingston and Bremerton.

The agency proposes to build a launching facility, either from Harper or the state’s Southworth dock, and lease it to private operators.

A small ferry would shuttle Vashon riders to Kitsap to meet up with the Seattle-bound passenger-only ferry.

“We just want to know if the state is in or out,” said Darrell Bryan, part owner of Aqua Express.

“The private sector needs to know the lay of the land for our long-term planning. Please, in this session, give us a clear cut message.”

The Puget Sound Ferry Coalition is facilitated by the Seattle-based Cascadia Center for Transportation and Regional Development of the Discovery Institute.

Reach reporter Niki King at (360) 792-9210 or nking@kitsapsun.com.

Copyright 2005, kitsapsun.com. All Rights Reserved.