Sound Off: Ferry solutions in the works

By Sarah Richards

The Keystone/Port Townsend ferry situation is about three years from being resolved completely and we’ll have some difficulties between now and then. After having been very active in trying to work with elected officials in making appropriate plans for resolution, I would like to commend Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen, Reps. Norma Smith and Barbara Bailey, and Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard for having listened to the concerns of the community and put forward plans and actions that I believe will be the best in the long run. At this point WSF is planning to build three boats, one of which will be the same as the leased vessel now in use and will not be a long-term solution for the needs of this run. The other two boats will be built using a design that is almost exactly the same size as the ferries that had been serving that route for 80 years. The new ferries will carry slightly more cars, many more passengers, and have the draft and maneuverability to get in and out of the Keystone Harbor. They can handle more severe weather than the Steel Electrics which means fewer cancellations due to harsh weather conditions.

The WSF crew that went to inspect this ferry in use between Woods Hole and Martha’s Vineyard are significantly impressed with the functionality of the ferry. There is concern about the expense to operate the ferry, so it looks like WSF will be looking at ways to construct and operate the ferry as economically as possible. Bear in mind the number of people traveling on that route is going up, and will continue to do so over the next 50 years, so the three replacement ferries have to provide enough capacity to accommodate that growth in addition to being able to safely and reliably make the challenging crossing.

While we are waiting for the new ferries to be built and delivered ,we are urging WSF and our communities to work together to mitigate some of the problems that are already surfacing. We have asked WSF to extend operating hours of the ferry so that passengers won’t be stranded on either side as often. We are also asking WSF to allow local vendors to supply local food to people who are waiting for the ferry. We have asked and WSF says they are going to put into place a “vessel watch” on the Steilacoom II, which will allow commuters and other travelers to see that the ferry is running or not. Finally, WSF is working with community representatives on a reservation system so that there can be some predictability and reduction of wait times for passengers.

We are also working to find a way to get a shuttle from the ferry terminal to Coupeville that meets all ferries, so passengers can have a predictable and reasonable link to the town and the rest of the Island Transit system. Most of these items are reported by Sen. Haugen, Mayor Conard and WSF as coming to fruition. The shuttle bus will be more difficult to achieve due to constraints that Island Transit has with its plant that they are working hard to improve at this time.

We can’t undo the damage that was done by losing our link to the Olympic Peninsula, but WSF, elected officials and the community have moved forward with both long and short term visions to solve problems.

Sarah Richards is president of the Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce.

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