Ferry food likely by summer

Ferry officials told a handful of Whidbey Island residents last week that coffee and traffic should be flowing smoothly on island ferries by summer.

At a meeting of the ferry advisory committee Thursday in Freeland, Pat Patterson, Washington State Ferries director of communications said the ferry system has been “quite encouraged” in the last month with the progress of negotiations with potential food vendors, many of whom are local restaurateurs offering fresh, local products.

“What’s happening is what we had hoped for,” Patterson said.

She estimates ferry food service will be restored before summer season starts.

Patterson and several other WSF representatives gave their report to an audience that consisted mainly of members of local governments, including Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, and Island County Commissioner Mike Shelton.

Mike Swires from the Department of Transportation reported that the plan to transition the Clinton ferry loading to one lane was on track, and expected to be completed by Memorial Day weekend.

The project won’t entail any road widening, but will instead restripe the road leading down the hill to the ferry dock, adding an uphill bike lane and wider lanes coming out of the ferry terminal and up the hill.

The realignment is being done in response to complaints that having two lanes funneling into three toll booths created a potential road rage situation. One lane always moves faster, going to two booths, while drivers in the other lane crawl along to just one booth.

Swires said they held off on the project until terminal renovations were completed, and that the dock can now hold more cars than before, which should ease the back up along the roadway.

A discussion led by a new member of the Mukilteo city council and Haugen involved adding a stop at the Mukilteo ferry landing for the Sounder commuter train which runs between Seattle and Everett. Haugen said it would be benefit Whidbey Island residents, who could take Island Transit to the ferry, then take the train either north or south.

The Keystone ferry was also on the agenda, and Haugen expressed her concern to the ferry officials about the plan to put 130-car vessels on the route. Her concern is that the route would become a commercial route between the Olympic Peninsula and the mainland.

“I feel strongly that this is not a route that should become commercialized,” she said. “We want to maintain the quality of life (for islanders).”

Commissioner Shelton also voiced concern about the ferry size, and whether that traffic would be funneled through Coupeville.

Although ferry traffic is directed to a circuitous round around Coupeville and Prairie Center, many people still turn left to take the shorter, but more congested route.

“It seems a slam dunk that Keystone is the best harbor,” Shelton said, “but does that commit us to the bigger boats?”

North Region Operations Port Captain Kelly Mitchell said crossing the current at the mouth of the narrow Keystone Harbor was the biggest issue. Ferry officials have said a bigger boat would be better able to buck the strong currents.

Haugen reminded the ferry representatives that not everyone in the legislature believed that “one boat fits all.”

Patterson reported WSF is on track with plans to build four new vessels, one of which is designated for the Keystone run.

The ferry system has undergone cost-saving measures in order to finance those ferries, which are estimated to cost $284 million. The first of those ferries is planned for a 2008 delivery to the Keystone run.

Patterson said WSF has saved $5 million in the first year of its capital funding plan.

“We’re trying to be a more efficient operation so you (state residents) won’t be held captive by initiatives,” Patterson said.

She also shared a report that ridership system-wide saw only a .8 percent decrease from the previous year. The ferry system sees this as an improvement over the downward trend the system has experienced since instituting a 20 percent fair increase is 2001.

Ridership on the Keystone run was down .9 percent, while the Clinton run was down 3.7 percent.

You can reach News-Times reporter Marcie Miller at or call 675-6611

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