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Ferry system goes terminal

Whidbey Island’s two ferry routes are due for some major changes in the near future and islanders will have a chance to comment without leaving the rock later this month.

The Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal Project will be presented to islanders Wednesday, March 22, and one week later, March 29, the Keystone Project will be presented.

Together, the two projects represent more than $170 million in already-approved state and federal funds, and will decide Whidbey Island’s ferry future for decades to come.

The most expensive but least controversial of the two is the Mukilteo project, in which a new ferry slip and terminal building with connections to the Sound Transit railroad tracks will be built north of the present terminal.

Eventually, islanders can walk onto the ferry at Clinton, and in Mukilteo catch bus and train links to cities both north and south.

Ferry spokesperson Joy Goldenberg said this week that $138 million in funds have already been committed to the Mukilteo project and construction is planned to begin in 2008.

She said the main issue remaining in Mukilteo is whether to build a parking garage upland or over the water. If the costlier water project is adopted, then building a second ferry slip in Mukilteo might have to be delayed. Clinton already has two slips, and both sides will need two slips for the ferry system to operate three ferries on the route, as is eventually foreseen.

Goldenberg said the busy route will only get busier in future years. In 2003 during the peak 3 to 7 p.m. weekday hours, 2,250 people on average rode the ferry between Mukilteo and Clinton. That number is expected to increase to 4,000 by 2030.

The Keystone project on Central Whidbey is not so far along, with the state still pondering four options. Some options, such as moving the terminal to the east end of Keystone Spit, have already been discarded.

The ferry system wants to widen, deepen and make safer the precarious Keystone operation which is buffeted by high winds and frequently stopped by low tides and strong currents. The narrow harbor is suitable for only the oldest and smallest ferries in the system, the 78-year-old steel electrics, which are ready for retirement.

Hadley Green, spokesperson for the Keystone project, said the ferry system has $31.4 million budgeted for the project.

The Keystone area is environmentally sensitive, sandwiched between Admiralty Inlet, Crockett Lake, Fort Casey State Park and the publicly-owned Keystone Spit.

One option is to extend the 300-foot rock jetty another 300 feet, and widen the harbor to the west to accommodate larger ferry boats. Green said this would take out about half the campsites in the adjoining state park.

Another option is to move the entire operation 300 feet to the east, making the harbor large enough to handle boats that can carry 124 to 144 vehicles. The present boats carry only 75 vehicles.

The other two options involve purchasing boats designed specifically for the existing Keystone Harbor, either with special propulsion systems for tight maneuvering by bigger boats, or going with new boats about the size of the steel electrics.

In the past, the ferry system has wanted all its boats capable of serving all routes, but Green said some now believe “there may need to be an exception for Keystone.”

The May 29 open house in Coupeville is part of the “scoping” process required by the State Environmental Policy Act.

Green said the state has no preferred option at Keystone at this point. That will come when the Environmental Impact Statement scheduled to be finished in 2008.

Construction on whatever alternative is chosen is planned to take place in 2009 and 2010.

Island ferry meetings

A meeting will take place Wednesday, March 22, 6 to 8 p.m., Clinton Progressive Hall, to discuss plans for the new Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal Project. For information visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/mukilteoterminal. E-mail comments to mukilteoferryproject@wsdot.wa.gov.

There will be an additional meeting Wednesday, March 29, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m., Coupeville Elementary School Multi-purpose Room, to discuss options for the Keystone ferry terminal project. For more information online go to www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/projects/keystoneharbor. Comments can be e-mailed to keystoneproject@wsdot.wa.gov.

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