The recent failure of the West Seattle Bridge is proof that maintaining bridges and roads is expensive. Their failure can isolate communities and put lives at risk.

Our region’s waters provide a healthy and sustainable alternative to expanded shoreside infrastructure development.

King and Kitsap counties operate popular passenger ferries. Waterfront communities share Seattle’s goal for car-free access to downtown. The Puget Sound Regional Council is studying passenger ferry routes for the Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Union.

A challenge beyond the scope of that study is the lack of dock and shoreside capacity on the Seattle waterfront and Lake Union. The King County passenger ferry float at the state’s Colman Dock is at capacity, and Kitsap Transit is looking for new landing sites.

The answer is to re-purpose the north end of nearby, underutilized Terminal 46 to a multimodal, multi-user transportation hub for current and future public and private fast ferries from communities north, south and west.

Terminal 46 could serve as a gateway hub for transit, cruise ships and community uses.
(Courtesy of Colibri Northwest, LLC )
Terminal 46 could serve as a gateway hub for transit, cruise ships and community uses. (Courtesy of Colibri Northwest, LLC )
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A repurposed Terminal 46 could also provide an asset in case of a catastrophic event for emergency responders and evacuation vessels. Ferries and terminals evacuated thousands escaping Manhattan on 9/11 and expedited recovery from the 1989 San Francisco Loma Prieta earthquake. New York and Bay Area ferries have since greatly expanded as residents embraced the resiliency, convenience and predictability of marine transit.

Fast ferries are affordable with high-tech, low emission engines that reduce vessel noise impact to marine life while providing passengers with a smooth ride — quiet and clean in almost any weather. Local shipyards, naval architects and engineering firms build remarkable vessels for global markets, and local operators have the expertise and skilled maritime labor force to operate them.

The city of Des Moines is a potential case study of marine technology enhancing the economy and environment. City leaders commissioned a demand study to engage the community and rally civic leadership to passenger-only ferries. The Des Moines Marina’s 800 parking spaces serve 220,000 annual vehicle visits. Some 100,000 parking vouchers issued to Anthony’s restaurant patrons in 2019 attest to the economic potential of terminal concessionaires.

High-speed charging stations could serve hybrid electric passenger ferries and electric buses for a connection to SeaTac Airport, where port leaders want to lower carbon flight operations — a potential trifecta of decarbonized marine, surface and air transportation.

Expanded fast ferry fleets would connect at Terminal 46 to Pioneer Square, International and Stadium Districts — 1,500 feet from Sound Transit, Metro, King Street Station and ride share operators.

We call the proposed transportation hub Salish Crossing to honor the Salish people who traded and fished their traditional territory on the Salish Sea. The Crossing could complement waterfront redevelopment with a tribal cultural center and public education spaces showcasing the Port’s working waterfront as well as Pacific and Alaska gateways. Off-boat fish sales and a public market would serve the International District and visitors with foods not available in the downtown core. The Port could also consider relocation of its headquarters.

The Port suspended the Terminal 46 initiative for cruise ship operations last spring to gauge how the industry rebounds from the pandemic. Investments today in the Crossing can reduce future cruise terminal and land side costs, expand maritime jobs and put future cruise passengers in the midst of a dynamic, diverse neighborhood. The Crossing can handle multiple sailings, reduce congestion on Alaska Way, Pier 66 and Terminals 90/91 with faster links to SeaTac Airport.

We encourage the city of Seattle, King and Kitsap counties, the regional council, Port of Seattle, Northwest Seaport Alliance and the state of Washington to jointly explore Salish Crossing. What better way to help the region emerge stronger from the pandemic as both a traditional crossing, regional and international gateway for tourism, jobs, commuters, tribal culture and international trade?