Ferry Puyallup not fixed, but getting there

Washington State Ferries pulled the 202-car Puyallup out of service Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday to inspect and fix a broken engine.  At Eagle Harbor Maintenance Facility, they cut a hole in the car deck to pull out the crankshaft and drop a new one into the engine room.

That’s all they expected to get done in the time available. The rest they can be complete at nights when it doesn’t disrupt service, said WSF spokesman Brian Mannion.

The boat can continue to operate with three of its four engines, though it falls behind schedule at times.


Transit board gives thumbs up to liquor ads

Buried in my story Wednesday, and at the meeting it described, was the Kitsap Transit board’s approval of liquor ads on buses. The idea has been floating around since spring,  and got more ink then.

The board ran out of time and held the resolution over at both its May and June meetings, then gave it limited discussion at the end of a packed agenda Tuesday.

Service and capital development director Steffani Lillie said Transit only received two public comments. Both were against. The tease to my earlier story on Facebook might’ve been a better  indicator of  interest. There were at least a few dozen, comments, pretty much split for and against. I wish I could review them, but that was two months ago. Talk about being buried.

I remember it was your typical Facebook stuff — crackpots on both sides with a few good points sprinkled in. Most commenters hadn’t read the story, otherwise I doubt there’d be much opposition.

The ads can’t be provocative. No girls in bikinis or anything like that. They can’t show people actually drinking booze. They have to be accompanied by disclaimers stating the legal drinking age and to drink responsibly. Lillie or executor director John Clauson must approve them. It’d be a stretch to believe they’ll encourage kids to drink.

Some board members supported the idea as being good for the burgeoning local brewing and distilling industries, which Poulsbo mayor Becky Erickson said was the “whole reason” she voted for it.

County commissioner Rob Gelder was OK with the change, as long as Transit asserts control. “It’s important that we don’t compromise the brand of Kitsap Transit,” he said.

Bainbridge mayor Ann Blair abstained from the vote because her city council hadn’t discussed the issue. County commissioner Charlotte Garrido was the lone no vote.





What foot ferry plan?

rp1The most startling finding to come out of a recent survey on Kitsap Transit’s plans for cross-Sound passenger ferry service is that most Kitsap people know nothing about it. A close second is that I’ve been wasting my time the past 10 years.

There’s no topic I’ve written more about than passenger-only ferries. Hundreds of stories. But in a May public opinion poll of a statistically valid 400 people, 56 percent said they hadn’t heard of it. If anything, I figured people were sick of reading about it.

Maybe it’s because the business plan for fast ferries running from Bremerton, Kingston and Southworth to Seattle is relatively new. It was published in December 2014. People have been busy.

Leading up to the report, however, was an 8 1/2-year, $12.7 million research project  that culminated in building and testing a high-tech catamaran that can transit Rich Passage without tearing up beaches. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents weren’t aware of the research.

Executive Director John Clauson seemed astonished.

“One of the biggest takeaways for me is we’ve got to get the word out better,” he said during a subcommittee meeting Tuesday when the results were presented. “We’ve got too many people in Kitsap County who are uninformed.”

Poll results were surprisingly positive in many regards. Though 56 percent said they didn’t know about the plan, 72 percent were interested in pursuing the service. Three out of four thought it would be good for the economy.

Under the plan, 30-minute sailings would cost about $1.50 more each way than existing walk-on options. Service would focus on commuters. A local tax increase would be needed and would probably come from local sales tax.

Respondents said the most important aspect of service is keeping on schedule, with 89 percent saying it was important or very important. Lumped behind that were a schedule that meets commuters’ needs (79%), fast crossing (78%), schedule that makes personal needs (77%) and service guided by a strong business and financial plan (77%).

Regarding costs, 69 percent said it was important or very important that more than one-third of operating costs be paid by passengers, 54 percent that taxpayers help with a sales tax of 2 cents per $10 dollar purchase, and 51 percent that fares be $1.50 more each way than current walk-on fares.

The largest drawbacks were that it would cost taxpayers too much (31% agree or strongly agree), duplicate existing services (26%), cost riders too much (22%) and not serve enough people (22%).

Seventy-eight percent said it would make it easier to get to work or school and 70 percent that it would improve their quality of life.

Mason Transit pockets national award

Mason Transit Authority, which opened the nation’s first rural transit-community center a couple months ago, was named the 2015 Rural Community Transportation System of the Year by the Community Transportation Association of America. It’s the first time CTAA has honored a Washington transit agency with one of its national system of the year awards.

Mason Transit redesigned an old National Guard armory in downtown Shelton for the transit-community center. Besides catching the bus there, people can take a class, attend a meeting or receive help through the county’s social and human service programs, some of which are now housed in the building. Folks can also shoot hoops or play pickleball in the gym.

Besides the transit-community center, MTA was lauded for its after-school actvities bus service, volunteer driver program for seniors, partnerships with tribal governments and its vanpool service, which transports more than 150 workers daily to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton.

DOT, WSF directors training for deckhand jobs

Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson and Washington State Ferries director Lynne Griffith last week completed two-week ordinary seaman training. That’s the entry-level deck position for WSF.
The women worked side-by-side with a group of new hires on firefighting, abandoning ship, crowd management, vessel navigation and person-overboard rescues. Griffiths’ highlights were personal safety and survival skills training at the Bainbridge Island pool and fire-fighting school at the Kitsap County Readiness Response Center in Bremerton.
The pair wanted to experience firsthand what entering the organization and the training involved are like. It’d be neat if they got called in an emergency so a boat could sail.

On Monday, the Chelan squeezed through the Ballard locks. The ferry was returning from topside and interior painting at Lake Union Drydock Company. It’s longer than a football field and 80 feet wide. Doesn’t she look perty? The Tacoma is next up for a paint job, and she needs it.

Ian Sterling is WSF’s new public information officer. He moved over June 1 from the 520 bridge project, where he was a communications consultant. Before that, he was a field reporter with KOMO Newsradio.
Former communications director Marta Coursey has left WSF. She was responsible for not only media relations, but general communications, community outreach, customer service, special events, advertising and marketing. With the exception of customer service and community outreach, Sterling will absorb her responsibilities.  Her job is basically being split in two. She and I worked together a long time. I wish her the best.

If you receive ferry alerts, you’ve probably noticed a change. Starting  May 19, WSF updated its language used to describe things that delay or cancel service. The change is intended to better explain the cause of service disruptions and provide basic factual information to help customers plan their travel. WSF will no longer use the term “operational constraints.”

Ferries fares and how they’re faring

The state Transportation Commission will be talking ferry fare increases during its monthly meeting Tuesday in Olympia. Generally, there’s a 2.5 percent “cost-of-living” increase every Oct. 1.
It was different last year, when it happened early, on May 1, to offset revenue lost from expanding the youth discount from 20 percent to 50 percent. Vehicles took a 2.5 percent hit, but passengers got off with 2 percent.
A 2.5 percent hike is assumed in the House and Senate transportation budgets that need to be consolidated and passed soon.
The ferry fare discussion is on the agenda for 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. You can watch it on TVW.

Two routes would have made money last fiscal year (July 1, 2013-June 30, 2014) if Washington State Ferries wasn’t viewed as a system. Edmonds-Kingston collected 106.7 percent of its operating costs, and Seattle-Bainbridge 106.1 percent. Overall, fares covered 69.2 of the system’s operations.
The other routes:
Mukilteo-Clinton 86.9
Anacortes-Sidney 69.3
Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth 52.0
Seattle-Bremerton 47.3 percent
Anacortes-San Juan Islands 46.1
Port Townsend-Coupeville 43.7
Point Defiance-Tahlequah 42.9

When the second new 144-car ferry, Samish, joins the Anacortes-San Juans route on June 14, it will domino other boats to new assignments. 144-car Hyak will move from the San Juans to Bremerton. It will replace sister ship Kaleetan, which goes to dry dock until mid-September. The 90-car Sealth goes from the San Juans to Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth, bumping 87-car Evergreen State to standby, along with sister Tillikum.

So the local lineup for most of the summer will be:
Bainbridge: 202 car Wenatchee and Kingston’s 202-car Puyallup because 202-car Tacoma will be in dry dock all summer.
Kingston: 188-car Spokane and Bremerton’s 188-car Walla Walla.
Bremerton: 144-car Hyak and 124-car Kitsap
Southworth: 124-car Issaquah, 124-car Cathlamet and 90-car Sealth.

New ramp meters being added near JBLM

CEwDKWZVIAE9MrQThe state is installing ramp meters between Olympia and Tacoma to ease chronic congestion on I-5 around Joint Base Lewis-McChord until more lanes can be built, which might never happen.

The Department of Transportation will have meters at 11 interchanges near Joint Base Lewis-McChord where traffic routinely slows to a crawl during the morning and afternoon commutes. They could be flashing as soon as May 18.

New ramp meters, traffic cameras, and variable-message and travel-time signs are part of a federally funded project  designed to help alleviate congestion through this corridor by better managing traffic.

I won’t bother telling you where they’ll all be, or are. Three are already operating. Just know if you’re entering the freeway, you’ll probably have to stop first.

The meters help reduce congestion by providing timed intervals between vehicles, instead of allowing multiple cars to enter the freeway at once. Studies show that they reduce collisions by as much as 30 percent.

Before the new  Narrows Bridge opened, they put the meters on five or six of the ramps heading toward Tacoma, and cameras too so you could look online and see how bad things were before you got there. I didn’t notice a ton of difference, but maybe that’s just me.

They turned them off when the new bridge broke the traffic jam, but they’re still there and might be needed later.

I can’t think of many places where on-ramp meters would make a big difference in Kitsap. What do you think?

One special session probably not enough for Legislature

A Kitsap Transit lobbyist told the board Tuesday he’s not optimistic the Legislature can complete its work during the 30-day special session that began April 29.
Everything is being held up by disagreements between the House and Senate over an operating budget that must include a huge chunk of Supreme Court-mandated education funding, said Dylan Doty. Only when that is resolved can lawmakers move on to construction and transportation budgets, and a transportation revenue package.
Doty predicts a second special session will be needed, which could extend into June. The ultimate deadline is the end of the state fiscal year June 30, when the government would shut down.
Transportation chairs Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, and Curtis King, R-Yakima, have been meeting regularly about transportation revenue project lists and reforms, Doty said. They’re close on the projects. The holdup, like last year, is reforms, including keeping sales taxes from projects in the transportation budget instead of the general fund as is done now.
Kitsap Transit has much to gain from a transportation revenue package, including money for new Silverdale and East Bremerton transfer centers that is on both project lists.
Also mixed up with the package is House Bill 1221. It would, with voter approval, allow Kitsap Transit to create one or more passenger-only ferry districts funded by up to three-tenths of 1 percent of local sales tax.
The transit board on Tuesday approved a $312,000 contract to move ahead with Phase 2 of the cross-Sound passenger-only ferry business plan, which includes engaging the community about it. Until the bill’s fate is known, however, there are some questions about what to tell people. But the agency should share what it knows, said South Kitsap resident Roger Gay and a couple board members.
“Mr. Gay is right,” said Poulsbo mayor Becky Erickson. “Sooner or later we’re going to have to figure out what these districts look like. To have a viable financial plan, what people will be taxed at what level? People who will be included have a right to know so they can express support or non-support.”

Class artists given chance for unique canvas — snowplow blades

th-1Some Kitsap County kids will be disappointed if it doesn’t snow next winter, and it won’t be just because they don’t get to skip school.

As part of the annual National Public Works Week celebration (May 17-23), Kitsap County Public Works has announced a contest to select three classrooms to paint the blades of snowplows used in snow and ice removal operations. The contest is open to classrooms at all levels.

Public Works will provide the paint and brushes, and arrange delivery and pick up of the plow blade with the selected schools. The  blades are 12 feet long and about 3 feet high.

Applications and photos of last year’s entrants are available at http://kitsapgov.com/press/2015/NR15-040.htm.

In all fairness, Narrows tolls should be slashed

Larry Seaquist, the former state rep from Gig Harbor, says Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls should be one-fourth of what they are, and he’s asking the state Transportation Commission, which is responsible for setting rates, for help.

It’s a matter of fairness, he says, and I’ve selfishly made the same argument myself. Why do we have to pay for every penny of our project when nobody else does?

It wasn’t so bad when tolls were $1.75. On July 1, they’ll jump another 50 cents to $5 for the cheapest rate. My wife and son both commute that direction. That’s $50 a week between them, $200 a month, $2,400 a year. After awhile, it’s real money.

In a letter, Seaquist says tolls should be cut to $1.25 now and top out at $1.50. That would pay for about one-fourth of the $729 million bridge, the percentage the state is asking from 520 floating bridge users for their $4.65 billion project.

But if the tolls are cut, how will the bridge be paid for?

The Legislature has been discussing a $15 billion transportation revenue package funded primarily through an 11.5 cent gas tax increase. Seaquist says reworking the bridge deal would take just 2/100s of 1 percent of that. I’ll trust his math.

In a way, I feel we made a deal, we should honor it. Who do we think we are? Pro athletes? The bridge is everything it was cracked up to be. Unfortunately, at least for now, it just pushes the backup a few miles down the road.

At the same time, Gig Harbor and South Kitsap residents, who would be the primary users, fought it all the way. It wasn’t about the bridge, but the tolls. An advisory vote on the bridge was extended to most of western Washington to get a favorable response. Those nearest were overwhelmingly opposed.

I don’t remember this, but Seaquist says the bridge financing was a test case, after 40 years without any tolls, to see if the state could charge users for large projects and stay away from the gas tax. Evidently, they didn’t like the results, because the Narrows became a one and only. A $15 billion gas tax package would demonstrate the state is abandoning tolling altogether.

“It is time for you commissioners to revisit the original deal,” Seaquist wrote. “Declare that both ends of the guinea pig experiment went wrong. The 100 percent rule forces tolls way too high for working families, students and retirees. And in eight years the state’s power players — big business, big labor and the politicians — have figured out that, for now, gas taxes are better than tolls.”

This would be outside the Transportation Commission’s realm. It’s just responsible for keeping tolls high enough to pay for bridge debt, operation and maintenance. But Seaquist is asking them, as the state’s tolling authority, to tell the governor and legislator the experiment didn’t work.

“It is not fair that our tolls should go up when the state has abandoned the 100 percent rule, has walked away from mega-project tolling and is planning to raise our gas taxes so we can help pay for everyone else’s new highways, too,” he wrote.