A Funding Idea For Puget Sound’s Forward Thrust?

Puget Sound Passenger Ferry Coalition

A Funding Idea For Puget Sound’s Forward Thrust?

At the December 7th Puget Sound Leadership Ferry Summit in Bremerton, the Cascadia Center distributed the attached brief, “Principles For An Inter-local Agreement On Expanded Puget Sound Passenger-only Ferry .” Also at the session, co-host Cary Bozeman, Mayor of the City of Bremerton spoke eloquently of developing a “Forward Thrust For Puget Sound” effort that could jointly fund Puget Sound clean-up and a regional foot ferry network.

Inspired, we wrote the attached opinion piece for the Seattle P-I Sunday edition on Feb 10th, entitled, “Salish Sea Express: Imagine a Network of Foot Ferries.” In it, we try to advance Mayor Bozeman’s idea by calling for regional public and private funding for passenger ferries, landside terminal improvements (in partnership with Washington State Ferries) and environmental cleanup related to the Sound’s transportation system. This would center on culvert replacement for fish passage and (a later suggestion) addressing surface water runoff.

We received an excellent response to the idea and as a result, propose to conduct interviews around the Sound (starting with today’s meeting) to take a proposal to the Legislature in 2009. Specifics always invite controversy, but abstract ideas without focus fail to move the debate. So here are some early ideas:

Public funding should come from a Puget Sound regional Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, which was lowered dramatically through I-695 (a decision that has led to current WSF funding challenges). Sales taxes are already high and a less-than-statewide gas tax is a non-starter. Property tax increases are also problematic.

Obviously, other governments have their eye on the MVET (counties and cities can levy an MVET add-on of up to $20 without a vote of the people). We would proposed to divide the MVET tax increase ($50 for 10 years?) among other transportation uses, but still secure a healthy percentage for the following:

  • As match to port and private developer funds for ferry terminal construction/rehab through local improvement districts and concession agreements. The Port of San Francisco’s Ferry Building on the Embarcadero is a good example of this concept.
  • Pooled Sound-wide purchase of new high-tech, locally constructed, low wake fast ferries with joint maintenance facilities (and some federal cost sharing).
  • Multi-county, surface water runoff and culvert rehab projects related to roadways and in partnership with tribes, state and local governments, and as identified by the Puget Sound Partnership.
  • Foot ferry vessels would be on-call and approved for use by Homeland Security and the Coast Guard in case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack, similar to plans developed by the Water Emergency Transportation Authority in the Bay Area.

Governance for this fund would be through an Inter-local Agreement among all Puget Sound counties, tribal governments, waterfront cities, transit and port districts, WSDOT, and the private sector through such organizations as the Passenger Vessel Association and economic development councils. Other funds such as the hotel-motel tax could be incorporated. Under such a proposal, counties like King, which have formed their own foot ferry districts, could phase out their additional property tax increase and subsume under the Inter-local.

Fifty bucks a vehicle for 10 years initially is a drop in the bucket – but it is a start.
And it marries two powerful causes, Puget Sound cleanup and ferries. Please send your thoughts on this draft proposal and any suggested variations to

Bruce Agnew
Director, Cascadia Center For Regional Development
206-292-0401 x113

Bruce Agnew

Director, Cascadia Center
Since 2017, Bruce has served as Director of the ACES NW Network based in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington. The Network is dedicated to the acceleration of ACES (Autonomous-Connected-Electric-Shared) technology in Northwest transportation for the movement of people and goods. ACES is co-chaired by Tom Alberg, Co-Founder and managing partner of Madrona Venture Group in Seattle and Bryan Mistele, CEO/Co-Founder of INRIX global technology in Kirkland. In 2022, Bruce became the director of the newly created Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) Regional Infrastructure Accelerator. Initial funding for the Accelerator has come from the Build America Bureau of the USDOT. PNWER is a statutory public/private nonprofit created in 1991 by the U.S. states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan and the territories of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. PNWER has 16 cross-border working groups for common economic and environmental initiatives.