Suquamish pitched for new ferry name

0609_KSLO_Tokitae1The fourth of this class of ferries — this is the Tokitae — could be named Suquamish.

The Suquamish Tribe might have gotten a break in its quest to have a new ferry named after it.

After Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman’s pitch to the state Transportation Commission Tuesday, Transportation Chairwoman Anne Haley disclosed an affinity for the Suquamish. Her great aunt wrote a book in the 1930s about the Chief Seattle and Princess Angeline. She feels a “kinship” with the Suquamish because of that, she said.

Forsman told her the book is rare and one of the better historic pieces about the tribe.
During the presentation, he said the Suquamish, unlike many other tribes, lived along — and relied upon — marine waters. They rowed canoes back and forth across Puget Sound to fishing grounds. They helped early settlers get established.

The town of Suquamish was among the first ferry terminals. An early private ferry was called Suquamish. Today, many Suquamish commuters rely on the ferries for their economic well-being, as well as social connections.

Supporters of the other two names in the running — Sammamish and Cowlitz — will make presentations Wednesday. The commission is collecting opinions from two survey groups. Washington State Ferries personnel and the ferry advisory executive committee will chime in. The decision will be announced at the Transportation Commission’s March meeting.

This is the fourth of four new Olympic-class ferries. The others are named Tokitae, Samish and Chimacum. With boats already named Salish and Samish, it could be fun to add Suquamish or Sammamish to the mix.

State knows about Highway 166 settling


One of you readers mentioned in the comments to my Tracyton Beach Road story earlier this week that Highway 166, the road between Port Orchard and Gorst, is settling. I called WSDOT’s Claudia Bingham-Baker and she asked the maintenance crew to take a look at it. Here’s the photo they snapped.

She says they’re aware of it and plan to level and patch the road this summer.

I don’t know if this is related to the mudslides along there that would close the highway almost annually. It took several years, but the state seemed to get that under control.

Bridge tolls can’t be removed with the snap of the fingers

A petition posted on last week seeking to freeze or eliminate tolls on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge generated an energetic response and much misinformation. I’ve attempted many times to explain the situation, but it’s apparently hard to comprehend. Maybe casting the information in the form of a quiz will make it easier.

1. What was the original cost estimate for the bridge?
A. $729 million
B. $350 million
C. $2.1 billion
D. $175 million
Answer: The state estimated in 1998, before negotiating a deal with builder United Infrastructure, the cost would be $350 million.

2. What did bridge construction wind up costing?
A. $729 million
B. $1.5 billion
C. $400 million
D. $1 billion
Answer: The construction cost was $729 million.

3. When will the bridge be paid off?
A. It was funded by state taxes.
B. It was paid off years ago.
C. 2030
D. Never
Answer: The bridge will be paid off and all other obligations satisfied by July 1, 2030.

4. What will be the total cost, including interest?
A. $729 million
B. $1.5 billion
C. $1 billion
D. $3.2 billion
Answer: The final payout will be $1.5 billion. That includes $684 million in bonds plus interest.

5. What happens after the bridge gets paid off?
A. Tolls will remain to pay for other state projects.
B. Tolls will be reduced to the amount needed to operate and maintain the bridge.
C. Tolls must legally be removed.
D. Tolls will remain to help pay for basic education.
Answer: Tolls must legally be removed. State taxes will pay for maintenance, like on the old bridge.

6. How often are toll rates increased?
A. Every July 1
B. Every couple months
C. When tolls start to fall short of paying for bonds, maintenance and operations
D. When state officials want a pay raise
Answer: Toll rates are raised when necessary to keep up with bond payments that increase each year.

7. How many times have toll rates been raised since the bridge opened in July 2007?
A. Eight (annually)
B. Twice
C. Twelve
D. Five
Answer: Five times, from $1.75 the first year for transponders to $2.75 the next four years to $4, $4.25, $4.50 and $5 each for a year. The toll plan in 2002 foresaw tolls of $3 the first two years, $4 for three years, $5 for three years and $6 beginning this year for the remaining 15 years.

8. How much would a full-time commuter with a Good To Go pass pay a year at the current rate?
A. $3,000
B. $4,500
C. $850
D. 1,300
Answer: Assuming 260 weekdays in a year, the annual cost would be $1,300.

9. What percent of tolls goes to pay the bonds?
A. 85 percent
B. 15 percent
C. 100 percent
D. 45 percent
Answer: In fiscal year 2014, $54 million of the $64.1 million in tolls — 85 percent — went toward debt service.

10. What else can tolls pay for?
1. State mega-projects
2. Pierce County road maintenance
3. Ferry operations
4. Bridge maintenance and operation
Answer: Only for maintenance and operation of the new bridge

11. An advisory election was held in 1998 whether people believed a toll bridge should be built. What areas were included?
A. Kitsap Peninsula only
B. Kitsap and Pierce counties
C. Kitsap, Pierce Clallam, Jefferson, Thurston, Mason and King counties.
D. The entire state
Answer: All of Kitsap, Clallam, Jefferson and Thurston counties, most of Pierce and portions of Mason and King

12. What was the result of the advisory vote?
A. 53 percent approval
B. 95 percent approval
C. 19 percent approval
D. 33 percent approval
Answer: Transportation Secretary Sid Morrison interpreted a narrow 53 percent margin as a public approval to use corporate bonds to finance a new bridge. Eighty-three percent of Gig Harbor/South Kitsap voters were against it.

13. How has bridge traffic been since the new bridge went in?
A. Flat
B. Better than expected
C. Worse than expected
D. Nobody keeps track
Answer: Traffic has grown year to year, but not to the level expected. Forecasters in 2002 projected 2015 traffic to be 17 million, then dropped it to 16.4 million in a 2005 forecast. Actual 2015 traffic was 14.4 million. Fewer transactions contribute to more frequent toll increases.

14. Has the new bridge improved traffic congestion?
A. Not enough to warrant the tolls
B. It’s so much better that I don’t mind the tolls.
C. You can’t tell the difference except during commute times.
D.  I’d rather wait in traffic.
Answer: It would often take an hour to travel from Interstate 5 to the bridge between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. Now it takes 6 to 7 minutes, according to DOT. It used to take 40 minutes to go from Rosedale Street to the bridge from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. Now it takes 7 to 8 minutes to motor all the way from Highway 302.

15. Where can you find financial and traffic information?

A. You need a security clearance.
B. Online at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolling page
C. It’s on the Internet someplace but hard to find.
D. The information is not available to public.
Answer: On the Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolling page

The petition is directed at the state Department of Transportation and Transportation Commission, which can’t freeze or eliminate tolls. Toll revenue would have to be replaced by other funds to pay for the bridge, and only the Legislature can do that. It had a chance with passage in June of a $16.1 billion transportation revenue package, but help for Narrows toll-payers wasn’t included.
Local legislators and the citizen advisory committee have worked to keep bridge costs at a minimum. Most recently, Sen. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, led an effort to defer payment of $57.6 million in sales taxes on construction costs until the rest of the bridge is paid off. Tolls would be collected an extra six to eight months, but rates would be less.
Despite what many might believe, there’s no good way to freeze or remove the tolls.
“There isn’t any other means to pay that bridge off that I know of,” Angel said. “That’s why I tried to do naming rights. That’s why the last session I got all the sales tax diverted to the very end. There is no fix that I can even see out there. We might be able to do some minuscule things here and there, but those tolls pay for the bridge.”

Bainbridge ferry rider a real life-saver


Washington State Ferries employees have taken part in several potential life-saving events this year. Last time I checked, it was up to 18 incidents. Last month, a rider got into the act.

Kevin Halverson became the first member of the public to receive WSF’s Life Ring Award for saving another passenger on Oct. 5.

Halverson, who makes the reverse commute from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, was on his way back home that afternoon, sitting in the galley area, when he heard that a person couldn’t breathe or talk.

Halvorsen quickly responded and performed the Heimlich maneuver, dislodging the food blocking the person’s windpipe. The passenger left quickly after the incident and nobody got his name.

As a way to say thank you, the crew hosted Halverson for a vessel tour on Nov. 9 and presented him with the Live Ring Award.

Ferries filling 61 percent of car space

What percentage of ferry vehicle space gets used?

If you travel at commute times or sail away for the weekend, you’d think almost all of it. It’s not uncommon to wait an hour or more to drive aboard during those times.

The answer is 61 percent, which is still pretty impressive considering the boats run practically all day long.

Individual routes ranged from 45 percent full for Seattle-Bremerton to 66 percent for Mukilteo-Clinton. Bremerton is largely a foot route. Seventy-four percent of riders are car passengers or walk-ons.

Riders always complain that they need bigger boats, like on the Bainbridge route, but they really don’t. It’d just be a waste of fuel and labor costs.

Bremerton, however, is bumping up to a new 144-car Chimacum in 2017, whether it needs to or not. It can grow into it.

Bainbridge has similar characteristics to Bremerton because it’s going the same place — to a major city. Sixty-nine percent of its customers are passengers as opposed to drivers.
Only 43 percent of Fauntleroy-Vashon-Southworth riders are passengers, 48 percent  on the Edmonds-Kingston route and 56 percent for the system overall.

Almost never does a ferry reach passenger capacity, though it might seem so in early morning when the booths become beds. The day of the Seahawks’ parade after winning the Super Bowl was a notable exception.

Though an average of 61 percent of the system’s car decks are filled at any time, just 12 percent of passenger space is being used. It ranges from 7 percent at Point Defiance-Tahlequah to 18 percent for Anacortes-Sidney, British Columbia. It’s hard to put fannies in up to 2,500 seats.

Name those historic bridges

1LzPAfTDo you recognize any of the bridges up above? We could have a contest, except then I would have to know what they all are, which I don’t.

Anyway you can pick up this poster of historic Washington bridges for free through October at the State Archives headquarters in Olympia or at the Secretary of State’s main office at the Capitol in Olympia. They’ll be having an open house down there from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.See if you can name them all. I’ll find the answers.


Freeways not what they used to be

How bad has traffic become when drivers take backroads to get around the freeway?

I feel so lucky every morning when I see the traffic report and know I don’t have to go on the other side of Puget Sound. My wife does. I can plan my trips around Kitsap Peninsula down to the minute. She has no idea when she’ll get to work, or back home.

I always felt those estimates of how much productivity we’re losing because we’re stuck in traffic were bogus. I equate productivity with work, and just because it takes you two hours to commute doesn’t mean you can cut two hours off your shift. It’s subtracted from time with the kids, at the gym, sleeping.

Here, we might have an hour of heavy traffic twice a day at a few spots. There, my wife gets off the highway as soon as she crosses the Narrows Bridge and winds her way all the way to King County without getting back on. And it’s faster. It just defeats the whole purpose, defies the definition of a freeway.

How can people commute like that? I guess they don’t have much choice, if they want to get paid. You’d think at some point companies will have so much trouble moving workers and products that they start relocating to the peninsula. I wonder if ferry fares and bridge tolls are holding them back.

Legislators a few months ago passed a $16 billion, 16-year transportation package. Something had to be done. But I have a hard time imagining traffic will be any better in 16 years. Hopefully we can keep keep pace, and I won’t get transferred to the other side.

Can you picture what the roads here will be like in 16 years? Probably still crowded in the usual places. Out of that $16 million, we’ll be getting money to improve Highway 305 between Poulsbo and Winslow, though it’s not sure how. They’ll also be re-striping the Highway 3-Highway 304 interchange near the Bremerton treatment plant. That’ll get better flow coming south on Highway 3 at the expense of backing Highway 304 farther into town. Guess I better start looking for some backroads.

Drones buzzing the ferries

Drones are increasingly in the news these days, but I’d never heard them tied to ferries until Washington State Ferries director Lynne Griffith mentioned an incident in her weekly update.

Recently, she said, the system has had reports of drones being flown over and near the ferries. Earlier this summer, one of the captains reported that a drone was posing a navigational hazard as he landed at the Anacortes dock The captain reported that it flew just feet away and directly in front of the pilothouse during the landing.

Terminal staff found the drone operator and he is now the subject of a Coast Guard investigation.

It is not always illegal to fly a drone near ferry facilities or vessels, but it is against the law to interfere with the navigation and operation of ferries, Griffith said.

Is your Highway 305 commute faster now?

The Department of Transportation says a little change at the Highway 305-Suquamish Way intersection has helped a lot.

In response to community requests, state signal technicians monitored how the signal at the intersection was working. They found it was operating as programmed, but noticed that some highway drivers were allowing large gaps to develop between cars as they drove through the green light. At times the gaps were so large that the signal thought no cars were on the highway and prematurely turned red to let Suquamish Way traffic go.

Based on that observation, they made a few changes. They tweaked the signal timing to let more highway cars through on the green cycle, and added another signal display on the highway for drivers leaving Bainbridge Island. It tells them whether the highway light is red or green as they approach the intersection, improving their ability to react to the signal.

Traffic data gathered before and after the small changes showed a decrease in travel times from nearly 30 minutes to 17 minutes.

Please respond here what your experiences have been.