Momentum to diversify Puget Sound ferry service is growing. A real-estate company, for instance, is proposing first-of-its-kind service to shuttle people between Renton and Seattle on Lake Washington.
Transit leaders want to build a regional water-taxi network to help ease traffic congestion and prepare Puget Sound for natural disasters, taking a cue from places such as San Francisco that are leading the way for diverse passenger ferry service.
Industry leaders from Everett to Tacoma met last week to brainstorm ways to launch more ferries — whether by private companies or public agencies — to make better use of the region’s “water highways.”
Here, we lay out the preliminary discussion of a real-estate company’s plan, spotlighted recently by the technology news site GeekWire, to test passenger ferry service between Renton and South Lake Union on Lake Washington by 2020.
A representative of the firm, SECO Development, attended the brainstorming session in downtown Tacoma.
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“We own a good portion of the lake, and we have a terminal that has all of the infrastructure to support such a mission,” said SECO’s Director of Planning and Development Rocale Timmons, referring to the company’s growing Southport campus, with apartments and a hotel on Renton’s waterfront.
No other private companies have proposed such water-taxi service, according to the King County Department of Transportation.
Agency spokesman Chris Arkills pointed to San Francisco’s network of privately owned vessels, including a system called Prop, as a model for SECO’s proposed program.
Ideas of providing new ferry service on this region’s waterways, including Lake Washington, are in the talking stage. There are no firm plans for financing routes.
Besides giving commuters another transportation option, supporters want state legislators to consider creating an agency to oversee planning for use of ferries after a major earthquake, should highways and rail lines sustain severe damage. The Bay Area has such a group, the Water Emergency Transportation Authority.
Beyond studying passenger ferry service on Lake Washington, the group wants to analyze the potential for routes between Whidbey Island and Everett, as well as around Tacoma.
Tacoma City Council member Ryan Mello recently proposed a passenger-only ferry between Seattle and Tacoma to give commuters and tourists an alternative to congested Interstate 5, saying he imagines service similar to the new 118-passenger fast ferry between Seattle and Bremerton.
Both Arkills and Mafara Hobson, a spokeswoman for the Seattle Department of Transportation, emphasized support for diversifying options for getting people around.
“Waterborne transit has proved to be a smart transportation option,” Arkills said in an email. “The county is supportive of efforts to expand transportation options in a region that is experiencing tremendous growth.”
Peter Philips, publisher of Pacific Maritime Magazine, said some waterfront communities are expressing interest in ferry service for the first time. And the public seems more interested, considering growing traffic gridlock.
“We are not going to be able to move any more quickly; the (Alaskan Way) Viaduct is coming down,” Philips said. “As we know from living here, things are not going to get better.”
Kitsap County voters showed their support for more ferry service by approving a 0.3 percent sales tax to help fund the new Bremerton-Seattle ferry last year, said Carla Sawyer, manager of the project.
The passenger-only ferry makes the trip in about half the time as the Washington state ferry, for a price about 50 percent higher than the state’s fare.
Washington State Ferries ran a passenger-only ferry between Seattle and Bremerton in the 1990s. But property owners along Rich Passage filed a lawsuit, complaining the boat wakes were eroding their beaches.
A judge ordered the vessels to cut speeds, which led to lower ridership, and the state canceled the service in 2003.
A private passenger-only ferry launched in 2004 but shut down three years later due to cost.
To run its proposed ferry on Lake Washington between Renton and Seattle, SECO would need low-wake vessels and dock space in South Lake Union, Arkills said.
That era ended in the 1930s as roads and rail offered more options. Just one ferry service, the Black Ball Co., operated until after World War II when Washington State Ferries took over and eventually built the system we know today.
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