by Matt Rosenberg December 28th, 2012
A new car ferry terminal on the State of Washington’s busiest vehicle run – from Mukilteo in Snohomish County to Clinton on south Whidbey Island – is currently $38.7 million shy of a needed $140.9 million for construction, according to a new report to the legislature from the Washington State Department of Transportation. The current terminal has been a big headache for commuters for years due to poor design which contributes to long backups for vehicles and complications in trying to load cars and foot passengers at the same time. WSDOT says future usage of the terminal is expected to grow 73 percent by 2030. In Washington, car ferries are considered part of the state highway system, particularly where bridges haven’t been built, across scenic Puget Sound. Earlier replacement plans for the strained regional transportation hub were shelved in 2007 due to “funding and constructability” challenges, but then re-started in 2010.
In the new report to lawmakers, WSDOT Assistant Secretary David Moseley and Secretary Paula Hammond say “current funding is insufficient to deliver the Preferred Alternative base cost and the identified risk reserve. Another $38.7 million is needed to find the project through construction…” They add they’ll aggressively seek federal funding to make up the difference. They cite seven federal grant programs from which they’ll seek additional monies, including four of the Federal Transit Administration, one of the Federal Highway Administration, one of the Environmental Protection Agency, and another for ferry projects that’s connected to the U.S. surface transportation funding bill called MAP-21.
There’s still time to maneuver, they say, because the project’s final Environmental Impact Statement and subsequent Record of Decision are due in mid-2013, and when the latter is issued prospects for further federal grants will grow. Construction is currently slated to begin in 2016 and be completed by mid-2018.
The whole thing is still a crapshoot, however. Federal surface transportation grants have been tightening considerably in recent years. And state and regional funds aren’t proving sufficient for a range of other key Western Washington road and transit projects. These include the planned new bridge across Lake Washington on State Route 520 which is $1.4 billion short of needed capital, and the planned expansion of Sound Transit’s current light rail footprint south, east and north – beyond the current Central Link starter line.
In the report WSDOT says part of the expected $102 million it’s banking on already for the project is $80 million more from the state in the 2015-2017 and 2017-2019 budget periods.
The so-called “preferred alternative” for the project is called Elliot Point 2. It would build a new terminal just west and north of the Mukilteo Tank Farm as part of a multimodal transit center, and the existing terminal to the south and tank farm pier would be demolished, “eliminating thousands of tons of toxic creosote-treated debris from Puget Sound.”
Deeper water would would allow the car ferry slip to be closer to shore with a shorter connecting plank or trestle than in other alternatives. There would be a new passenger and maintenance building, four new toll booths and an overhead loader to separate pedestrians and vehicles, and allow each to load at the same time.
Moseley and Hammond say the plans would cut long line-ups for the ferry on State Route 525, avoid impacts to parking for the central Mukilteo business district and Sound Transit’s adjacent Sounder North commuter rail, while improving waterfront walkway continuity, and heightening design possibilities reflecting Native American cultural themes.
WSDOT says the preferred alternative will also be best for security and “revenue control.” The latter is a reference to a relatively minor but embarrassing problem the state ferries have had at several terminals over the years, with cash payments from motorists being partially siphoned into the private pockets of ferry system personnel.
Options other than the preferred alternative are to improve the existing site for $143 million; build the Elliot Point 1 version for $168 million; or do nothing, which among other things would set the stage for delays leading to one in 20 trips being cancelled by 2040 at an annual cost of $11.4 million.