The Commute

An informative and entertaining discussion on our ferries and highways with Kitsap Sun reporters.
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Ferry shortage not related to staffing issues

July 31st, 2014 by ed friedrich

Seattle TV reporters tried to tie Washington State Ferries’ current boat shortage to crewing issues during a conference call with interim director George Capacci. While staffing has been a problem, as recently as Tuesday, the two are unrelated.
Two boats are in dry dock undergoing scheduled maintenance. The 124-Kitsap is getting a paint job and the 144-car Yakima having drive motor work. The jobs were planned a long time ago, and won’t be completed until late September.
WSF schedules more maintenance during winter, when business is slower, but it can’t all be completed without spreading into summer. Having two boats in planned maintenance this time of year is normal, said ferries spokeswoman Marta Coursey.
What wasn’t expected was for two of the system’s largest vessels to break down. Ferry officials had been keeping an eye on a Wenatchee stern tube seal while searching for a dry dock. They had to go to Vancouver, B.C., to find one, and towed the boat there Monday evening. The very next day, on a trip from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, the Tacoma lost power. Capacci said Thursday they don’t know yet what happened, except that it’s an electrical problem, and he hopes to have a repair plan next week.
“None of our four current challenges are because of lack of crews,” Capacci said. ” … These are operational issues with the maintenance of the vessels that have caused these shortages.”
So does the system have enough money to properly maintain the boats, a reporter asked.
There is a backlog of deferred vessel maintenance, but the Coast Guard wouldn’t allow the boats to sail if they weren’t safe, Capacci said.
Capacci and Coursey characterized the situation as “unprecedented,” and urged riders to sign up for alerts so they could stay informed. Those were the themes.
The Wenatchee is expected to return Friday afternoon, but ferries officials didn’t think they could wait that long to restore a second boat to the Edmonds-Kingston route. They moved the 124-car Chelan down from the Anacortes-Sidney, B.C. route at noon. That wasn’t popular with Anacortes Chamber of Commerce director Stephanie Hamilton, who called this the town’s biggest weekend.
Capacci said officials looked at reservations booked from Canada and weighed them against 5,500 vehicles the Edmonds-Kingston route carries every day. And, he added, it’s better to be without the Chelan Thursday and Friday and get it back for the weekend.
A technicality came up Tuesday when the Walla Walla was providing single-boat service to Bainbridge. Normally it’s allowed to carry 1,800 passengers, but it was limited to 600 seats at a time they were needed the most. That’s the number its life rafts can hold, and by regulation the maximum number of people the ferry can carry without another boat on the route to help in emergencies.
Capt. John Dwyer, Coast Guard chief of marine inspection in Seattle, happened to be in the WSF operations center when the Tacoma stalled and gave permission to load 1,200 people because the Sealth was nearby on the Bremerton route and could help rescue riders. The word never got to the boat or terminal, where customers were quite upset.
“The loop didn’t get completed,” Capacci said. “The communication apparently didn’t get to the right person at the right time. I’m very sorry about that.”
Staffing problems on the Fauntleroy-Vashon Island-Southworth route Tuesday morning were only indirectly tied to boat problems. The connection was the boat — Evergreen State — being there because of the breakdowns. It was brought out of retirement to fill in for the Sealth and keep the route at three boats. But dispatchers couldn’t find a mate until 10 a.m., so it remained idle for five hours.
Capacci sidestepped the issue Thursday, but spoke generally.
“There’s a high demand for crews in the summer, but I think we’re  meeting those targets of having those crews available,” he said.

Bremerton ferry naming decision coming in November

July 17th, 2014 by ed friedrich

We’ll know come Nov. 19 whether a new Bremerton ferry is called Illahee, the name you chose.
That’s the day the Washington State Transportation Commission is scheduled to vote on a recommendation from its ferry committee. The schedule was announced Wednesday. A press release soliciting names is forthcoming. We already have ours.
Over the past couple months, you sent in dozens of names. We whittled them to the top three. In final voting, Illahee (179) more than doubled Suquamish (87) and Radulescu (84), the state trooper shot to death during a traffic stop near Gorst in 2012.
Illahee means “land,” “country” or “place where one lives” in the Chinook language. It’s a pretty community and former Mosquito Fleet stop just north of Bremerton. A nearby state park also bears the name.
The new Olympic-class ferry wouldn’t be the first to be named Illahee. One served the state for 59 years before being retired in 2007 because of rust. It was scrapped in 2009.
Getting back to the schedule, name packets are due to the “Transportation Commission by Sept. 12. The ferry committee will check that they comply with guidelines and move them to Washington State Ferries and the Ferry Advisory Committee Executive Council for review. The two get a month to gather opinions before chiming in.
“The key thing is that there is public support for the name and they’ve actually gone out and talked to people about it,” Reema Griffith, commission executive director, said of the name sponsors.
The 12,000 members of the commission’s Ferry Riders Opinion Group will be able to participate in a poll.
The Transportation Commission ferry committee will digest all the input the week of Nov. 10 and present its recommendation to the full body Nov. 19.
Seven names were proposed for two ferries in 2012. The commission chose Tokitae and Samish. The remaining five could be back in the running this year. They are Ivar Haglund, Cowlitz, Hoquiam, Muckleshoot and Sammamish.
All that’s left for us is to solicit backing from local, regional and state bodies and officials. I’d like to include support from you, even if it’s only a sentence. It’d be cool to send in a hundred sentences from those who actually selected the name.
It’s been a couple years since the last names were chosen and I never wondered why. While the state was determining how to pay for the third ferry, another boat jumped in front of it at Vigor shipyards, WSF interim director George Capacci told the commission Wednesday.
“The challenge is we didn’t build three boats,” he said. “We built one and we built one and we built one. The shipyard took another project between the second and third vessels.”
Capacci said the Tokitae’s introduction to service June 30 was seamless, the smoothest he’s been involved with in 20 years. Commissioners wanted to know about vehicles scraping going to the upper car deck.
“I can count them on one hand of the thousands of vehicles we’ve carried over the last two weeks,” he said. “It is not operationally limiting, but with the electron microscope under which we operate constantly, it has drawn some attention.”
Money is coming in fine for the new 144-car ferries. A 25-cent capital surcharge was added to each ticket to pay for bonds to build the first two boats. The debt payment is about $5 million per biennium while the surcharge is generating about $7.8 million, WSF finance director Jean Baker told the commission. The Legislature passed some fee increases last session to help pay for the third boat.
Fare revenue in general has been up. During the 2011-13 biennium, it was $1.2 million over projections. This biennium is looking to be $1.5 million more.

Illahee’s the people’s choice for new ferry name

July 3rd, 2014 by ed friedrich
Here's the old Issaquah being scrapped in Ensenada, Mexico, in 2009.

Here’s the old Illahee being scrapped in Ensenada, Mexico, in 2009.

There could be another Illahee in the state’s ferry future.
That was clearly your favorite name for the new boat that’s coming to Bremerton in a couple years. Now I have to usher the name through the bureaucracy and get it picked by the state Transportation Commission.
The first Illahee served the state for 59 years before being abruptly yanked in 2007 because it was rusting away. It was scrapped in 2009.
Over the past couple months, you sent in dozens of names. They were whittled to three most popular — Illahee, Suquamish and Radulescu. In final voting last week, Illahee received more than half (179), though Suquamish (87) and Radulescu (84) also showed solid support.
It might’ve been more fun to crusade for Tony Radulescu, the state trooper shot to death during a traffic stop near Gorst in 2012. Many of you realized that would probably be in vain, however. The guidelines state that names honoring individuals should be avoided, but will be considered it the person has been dead for at least 20 years and has enduring fame. As beloved as Tony was, he doesn’t meet those criteria.
Several of you mentioned he deserved to be memorialized, but in a different way. Tony got more support from you than the votes indicate.
Radulescu also bucked the guideline that the name be consistent with existing fleet names. With the imminent retirement of the Evergreen State, they’ll all be tribal words.
Illahee fits. It means “land,” “country” or “place where one lives” in the Chinook language.
It’s also a pretty community three miles north of Bremerton overlooking Port Orchard Passage that was a former Mosquito Fleet stop. A nearby state park also adopted the name.
The naming process hasn’t officially begun. Washington State Ferries first has to sent the Transportation Commission a schedule for when it needs one. Then the commission will  formally solicit names.
It’ll be up to me to build a case. I have to show how Illahee conforms to the ferry-naming guidelines, provide background, and get letters of support from local, regional and state bodies and officials. I’ll be pushing this as the people’s choice, so it would be great if you want to write up your thoughts and send them to me.
The proposals first go to the Transportation Commission’s ferry team, which reviews them for compliance. Eligible ones advance to the full commission, the ferry advisory committee executive council and Washington State Ferries for review and input. They’ll be posted on the Transportation Commission’s website for public comment. The full commission looks at all the input and the ferry team recommendation and makes its decision.

Name that ferry

June 24th, 2014 by ed friedrich

My beautiful picture
The wonderful Meegan Reid found this negative in a sleeve that only said,
“High Tide
December 20 1972″
If you’re a ferry nut, that should narrow it down considerably. Name that ferry.

Ferry names cut down to three

June 22nd, 2014 by ed friedrich

Those are the names you chose for a new Bremerton ferry. Now you need to pick one to submit to the state Transportation Commission.
The vessel will be the third in the 144-car Olympic class. The first two are Tokitae, which is supposed to begin service Tuesday on the Mukilteo-Clinton run, and Samish, which will serve the San Juan Islands early next year.
Two weeks ago, Washington State Ferries signed a $112.6 million change order authorizing construction of the third boat. It’s not expected to be finished until early 2017.
The ferries system will soon tell the Transportation Commission by when it needs a name, and the commission will solicit them. There will be several proposals. Seven were considered for the last two boats. Those not selected were Ivar Haglund, Cowlitz, Hoquiam, Muckleshoot and Sammamish. I wouldn’t be surprised if they try again.
I know the Manette community is campaigning for Enetai. I like it, and we got several votes for it, but not enough to break into the top three. Others finishing just out of the running were Angeline and Kalaloch.
There are lots of good names, but we want to propose one based on your votes because the ferry will be serving the Kitsap area.
A couple names I really like that came in late are Kloomachin, which means killer whale in the Sklallam language, and Sholeetsa, who was Chief Seattle’s mother. Maybe next time.
Let’s look at the finalists:
Illahee means “land,” “country” or “place where one lives.” in the Chinook language. A community three miles north of Bremerton, which was a Mosquito Fleet stop, took the name, as well as a state park in the same vicinity. A state ferry was also named Illahee from 1940 until 2009. It was removed from service in 2007 because of hull corrosion, sold in 2009 and scrapped in Mexico.
Suquamish translates to “people of the clear salt water.” It’s the name of a tribe that lives on the Port Madison Reservation and a town within the reservation, another former Mosquito Fleet stop. There has never been a ferry called Suquamish. Two are named for Suquamish chiefs, Kitsap and Sealth.
Washington State Trooper Tony Radulescu, of Port Orchard, was shot to death on a traffic stop by a felon in February 2012. There’s a memorial for him at the District 8 headquarters in Bremerton.
Choosing Radulescu would be bucking the trend. The Transportation Commission likes consistency, and all but one of the ferries have Native American names. Its policy says it’ll consider people’s names, but only if they’ve been dead 20 years, possess enduring fame, and played a significant historical role in the region.
Illahee, Suquamish or Radulescu. Vote for your favorite and we’ll tally them up in a week or so, announce the winner and start vetting it with local groups and officials.

Logjam leaving Colman Dock being broken

June 16th, 2014 by ed friedrich

Bremerton drivers will get the green light this week after being stuck at Colman Dock by construction.
When Bremerton and Bainbridge ferries unload in Seattle at the same time, at least four times a day, Bremerton vehicles aren’t allowed north out of the terminal to Marion Street because of seawall replacement project. They’re all forced right, to Yesler Way, where there’s no traffic sensor, so the light stays green for just a short time. It can take more than half an hour to clear the dock.
When Bremerton drivers can use both Marion and Yesler, the light stays green longer because the sensor is on Marion.
The Seattle Department of Transportation will be installing a new override system this week to let ferry workers manually trigger a longer green cycle at Yesler.
I don’t know exactly how if works, whether there’s a sensor in the traffic signals or in the pavement or somewhere else that can tell how many cars are backed up and is smart enough to keep the light green. I just know when the cars are lined up turn toward Marion, the light stays green longer. The manual system should take a bite out of the Yesler wait.

Washington ranks ninth in gas tax

June 11th, 2014 by ed friedrich

Washington collects the ninth-highest gas taxes in the country, at 37.5 cents per gallon, the Tax Foundation showed on a cool map last week. It used new data from the American Petroleum Institute.
At the extremes were California No. 1 at 53.2 cents and Alaska 50th at 12.4 cents.
If you’re driving into Washington from neighboring states, you might want to stop in Idaho (25.0 cents) or Oregon (31.1 cents) and get gas before crossing the border.
Rounding out the top five are Hawaii (50.3 cents), New York (49.9), Connecticut (49.3) and Michigan (39.3). Bringing up the rear are New Jersey (14.5), South Carolina (16.8), Oklahoma (17.0) and Missouri (17.3).
These numbers don’t include the 18.4 cent federal excise that goes on top.
Gas taxes generally go toward funding transportation infrastructure maintenance and new projects. It’s a user fee in that it loosely connects users of roads with the costs of enjoying them, but not as perfectly as tolls.

71 cents of every Narrows toll dollar goes toward debt

June 11th, 2014 by ed friedrich

WSDOT put a graphic on its blog showing how tolls for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge are sliced up according to costs. In the state’s last fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013, 71 cents of every dollar went to pay for debt service. Another 12 percent was stashed in a reserve fund. Then there’s 5.3 percent to pay Transcore, the toll-collection vendor, 3.2 percent for ETCC, the customer service center vendor, and 2.4 percent for insurance. After that it gets pretty piddly for things like credit card fees, consultants and maintenance.
Dollarswise, $63.6 million in tolls was collected.
Tolls will be rising by 25 cents on July 1. They’ll be $4.50 for Good To Go! transponders, $5.50 for drivers paying at toll booths and $6.50 for Pay By Mail. It’ll cost the average weekday commuter about $65 more a year. The tolls keep going up because of escalating debt payments.

Time to narrow down new ferry names

May 26th, 2014 by josh farley

Name me.

You sent in dozens of names for a new Bremerton ferry.

It’s time to start narrowing them down.

If you’re just joining us, we figured who better to name the boat than the people it serves, and decided to coordinate a community nomination. We’re ahead of schedule. Vigor hasn’t even started building the 144-car boat yet, and it’ll take a couple of years after that before it hits the water.

The ferry’s two sisters, Tokitae and Samish, were named in November 2012. Tokitae is supposed to begin service June 15 on the Mukilteo-Clinton route. Samish will follow in early 2015 in the San Juan Islands. So there’s a lot of lead time.

Washington State Ferries hasn’t told the state Transportation Commission, which is in charge of naming, when it’ll need one. The commission requires three or four months to conduct the selection process, according to Reema Griffith, its executive director.

Believe it or not, we’ll need some strategy to cut down the list. All but one of the current 22 ferries have tribal names. The Transportation Commission’s guidelines state that it values consistency with existing names. To have any shot to get our nomination selected, do we need to stick with Indian words or can we diverge?

Here are the existing names: Cathlamet, Chelan, Chetzemoka, Elwha, Hiyu, Hyak, Issaquah, Kaleetan, Kennewick, Kitsap, Kittitas, Klahowya, Puyallup, Salish, Sealth, Spokane, Tacoma, Tillikum, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Yakima. Only Evergreen State, which will be retired this summer, has a non-tribal name.

We could play it safe by advancing another Indian name. Ideally, it would have ties to Kitsap since it’ll be based here. There’s nothing that says the new boat can’t leave Bremerton, however. The Chetzemoka, named for a Port Townsend-area chief and meant for the Port Townsend-Coupeville route, now sails off the south end of Vashon Island. They move around.

A couple of existing names, you probably noticed, already have Kitsap ties, like Kitsap. It means “brave” or “war chief” to the Suquamish Tribe. Sealth, or Chief Seattle, was chief of the tribe. There’s no ferry named Suquamish, though, or S’Klallam, our other tribe. Another suggestion sent in was Princess Angeline, Chief Seattle’s eldest daughter. A Mosquito Fleet boat was named for her, and the name made the Final Four for a new Kitsap Transit passenger ferry. It would be strange to have a big Princess Angeline and little Princess Angeline docking in Bremerton at the same time.

I like Enetai and Illahee, Indian words and place names that have been ferry names in the past. Enetai means “across,” “opposite” or “on the other side.” Illahee is “land,” “country” or “place where one lives.” Both are communities just north of Bremerton.

Chico also was suggested. The community between Bremerton and Silverdale was named for a chief who died in 1909 at the age of 105, according to a place name book. That was old in those days, and even now, for that matter.

Another one I like, because it’s a cool word and to mess with the tourists, is Kalaloch. It’s Quinault for “good place to land.”

Guidelines say names of  people should be avoided but will be considered if the person has been dead at least 10 years. They should have enduring fame or have played a significant historical role. How about a person who is an Indian?

Nisqually tribal member Billy Frank Jr., a well-known environmental leader and treaty rights activist, died May 5.

There are three other people you submitted — Tony Radulescu, a state trooper who was shot and killed in 2012 while making a traffic stop on Highway 16 near Gorst; Dennis Allred, a Kitsap County sheriff’s deputy who was shot and killed while on duty on Illahee Road; and Ivar Haglund, a Seattle folk singer and the founder of Ivar’s seafood chain.

Any person’s name is going to be a risk, according to the guidelines. And how do you choose between Radulescu and Allred? Haglund was almost selected the last time around, but there isn’t a local connection, and I don’t know if it was because people were being goofy or really wanted a ferry named Ivar.

Griffith of the Transportation Commission said Friday that the policy is not in stone, it’s just advisory. Ivar probably would’ve been chosen but the commission was concerned about promoting a business.

“We don’t want people to think (tribal names) all the commissioners would ever consider,” she said. “That seems to be the kind of names that come forward from organizations.”

So there are 10 nominations from our readers: Suquamish, Angeline, Enetai, Illahee, Chico, S’Klallam, Kalaloch, Radulescu, Allred and Haglund. If you feel you had a great one that I cut, make a pitch for it, or for something new. I’m still looking for something that I see and immediately know, “That’s the one.” I’ll finalize the list and put it out for vote in a couple of weeks.

Ferries tops reliability goal despite issues

May 22nd, 2014 by ed friedrich

The north end of Washington State Ferries took the brunt of service problems from January through March, according to the Department of Transportation’s quarterly Gray Notebook. The system canceled 177 out of 38,726 sailings for a 99.5 percent reliability rate, bettering its 99 percent goal.
It didn’t seem that dependable at times to riders on the Port Townsend-Coupeville route and in the San Juans.
There were 100 missed sailings caused by tides and bad weather, and every one of them was at Port Townsend-Coupeville. When tidal currents run too swiftly — more than 3.5 knots — WSF doesn’t gamble going aground getting in and out of little Keystone Harbor on Whidbey Island. As the boat’s bow enters the calmer water of the harbor, the stern, still in the current, gets spun around.
Eight boats had mechanical problems that resulted in 60 missed trips. Most were from the Sealth breaking down in the San Juans. Steering problems sidelined it for six days and resulted in 29 canceled trips.
Crewing issues accounted for 29 canceled sailings. DOT says its because of the Coast Guard requiring more staff with higher training requirements on several of the boats.
The San Juans also were late most often because the Sealth was replaced by other boats that were too slow to keep the schedule. Its on-time rate was 90 percent compared to 96.9 percent for the entire system.
On an average day, just 13 out of 428 trips don’t leave the terminal within 10 minutes of the scheduled departure time. Four routes, including Seattle-Bremerton, didn’t miss any sailings all quarter.
The system made more money in fares — $32.6 million — than any winter quarter in history.