Category Archives: Transportation

No one comes to Washington to drive I-5

Here’s the first version of the story from the ferry rally.

OLYMPIA

Ferry supporters made their case on the steps of the capitol Wednesday and reminded themselves they’d been there before.

Speakers made several references to the rally that happened nine years ago, almost to the day, in which 300 people carried signs and made a pitch for stable ferry funding.

They hope to get more out of the rally this time and they brought a plan they believe can help. State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, said it’s important these same people not have to come back in another nine years saying, “We waved signs and we got nothing. That’s not acceptable this time.”

To overcome what they see as a lack of resolution from the last time, Wednesday’s group brought with them a proposal for how to fund ferries into the future and save money.

Speakers, including business leaders and several Kitsap legislators, two local mayors and a county commissioner, made the case that ferries are vital economically to both regions and repeated the constitutionally supported mantra that ferries are part of the state’s highway system.

State Rep. Jan Angel, R-South Kitsap, said she introduced a bill to change the name of the ferry system to the Washington State Marine Highway system.

Several speakers made reference to the ferry system being a big tourist draw. “I’ve never met anyone who said they came to Washington state because they wanted to drive on I-5,” said said state Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-San Juan Island.

The crowd was about half the size as the one nine years ago and at least half of the people were from Vashon Island, many of whom arrived on two chartered buses.

Vashon Represents at the Ferry Rally

We’ll start with some photos before the event officially begins. The two Vashon buses got here at about 11 a.m., carrying with them a few people from Southworth. Right now they’re organizing the legislators they’ll meet with. They’re not planning to preach to the choir much. They’re going after legislators who are not in ferry communities and have a lot to do with whether the ferry system will get beyond plans A or B. After the jump are some photos.
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On Ferries, We’ve Had this Conversation Before

When did all this happen?

They traveled from eight counties but carried one message: “Save our ferries.”

Several legislators from ferry-using districts told the crowd that they won’t vote for a transportation budget that doesn’t take care of the ferries. It’s the other legislators who need to be convinced.

“If you want our vote, keep the boats afloat,” the group chanted.

The ferries are part of the state highway system, a governor’s representative said, but they’re also more than that. “A ferry with Mount Rainier in the background is the icon of this great state of Washington,” he said.

State ferries are part of the highway system, according to the 18th amendment of the state constitution, but the state isn’t carving a chunk out of existing state roads like it plans to do to the ferries, supporters claim.

“Keep the promise,” rose a chant that became a rally theme.

A 26th District state senator led the event’s most resounding chant: “It’s our road, it’s our road, it’s our road.”

“We’re not going to solve transportation problems on the back of ferry users,” said Mary Margaret Haugen, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “”I don’t believe you should pay twice as much and be cut also. A lot of people think ferries are a luxury. We know they’re not.””

“Give us what’s right and not just what’s left,” said a 26th District state rep.

Kitsap County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido handed petitions with 6,000 to 7,000 signatures to House Co-speaker Frank Chopp.

“I’ve got one basic message,” said Chopp, who was born and raised in Bremerton. “I love the ferries. If we let them go away, it’s shame on all of us.”

The answer is that this happened nine years to the day before an event planned for Wednesday, again in Olympia. Ferry supporters will gather in at the capitol Wednesday to rally for ferries. The state senator mentioned above was Bob Oke, now deceased. The state representative was Pat Lantz, now retired.

Parts of this story are being passed among ferry supporters to emphasize how the same message being delivered in 2009 was the one being chanted in 2000, yet ferries are still threatened to some degree. Back the ferry shortfall was the result of the car tab measure voters, then the Legislature, approved, taking away much of the funding for the ferry system. That’s still an issue, because the Legislature has largely decided to let riders make up much of the funding shortfall. That reached its maximum acceptance by riders, who are now asking the state to lay off a bit. The state’s response is to either keep service the same or reduce it.

Here are some differences from 2000, though. At the time the conversation was happening at a time when the economy was, we all believed, rocking. The dot-com bubble hadn’t quite burst yet, so things were hopping when the Legislature was in session. This time, of course, the economy is generally being painted as ugly.

I don’t see any evidence that Chopp is as passionate now about ferries as he was then. Haugen is not out in front either. With budget forecasts expected to be “horrific,” it’s hard to get as many people fired up to “save our highways.”

This time around, ferry supporters think they have a better strategy than they did nine years ago. Debbi Lester, a Bainbridge Islander who is part of the Plan C group and the Ferry Community Partnership, sent the dated story with the following message.

Let’s make the unexpected happen, let’s actually be capable of learning something from our history repeating itself, and let’s make action happen in Olympia!

We’ve waited 9 long years for Olympia to find solutions. What we’ve learned is to come with solutions in hand, on Wednesday, February 18, 11:30 am on the north steps of the Capital, we will be introducing our long range plan for Washington State Ferries – Plan C – The Citizens’ Plan.

It’s our turn to take the rudder, right this ship and set a true course for Washington State Ferries.

Ed Friedrich’s full story follows the jump.
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Pitting Ferries Against Key, Huskies, Convention Center

Ed Friedrich has the story on a legislator who wants King County hotel-motel tax money being used to pay for Qwest Field and SafeCo Field to be used to build ferries beginning in 2021. Trouble is he’s not the only one with designs on that money. Others are lobbying for it to be used to renovate Key Arena, the Washington State Convention and Trade Center and Husky Stadium.

That’s pitting us against Seattle in all of those cases.

It’s the second instance of someone recognizing the tourist element of ferries. Kitsap County spent $50,000 out of hotel-motel tax money to fund a study to measure the ferries’ economic impact on the East side of the sound.

Navy Could Be Tipping Point for Ferries

To date it has seemed like local ferry supporters have been speaking to crowds secretly plugged into iPods. The audience looks like it’s listening, but its attention is clearly elsewhere. We’ve discussed this before. The ferry study gets shut down, Frank Chopp stays silent and no one except our legislators seems to be calling for anything other than reductions in service.

Now, the Navy chimes in.

“I strongly recommend the state of Washington pursue a course of action that will maintain the service our Navy sailors, civilian employees and families now depend on and enjoy,” wrote Adm. James Symonds to David Moseley, ferry jefe.

Politically, this could be exactly the backing the ferry system needed. It’s the first voice I’ve noticed that has a real potential for motivating someone who doesn’t depend on the ferries. Moseley seems to see this. From Ed Friedrich’s story:

“Moseley thanked Symonds for the feedback and encouraged Navy personnel to contact local legislators.”

I would assume that means contacting legislators besides the nine who represent Kitsap.

Getting the Navy’s backing also gives U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, more clout than he had before with the Legislature. He didn’t get NASCAR. He might get this. More from the story:

U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, said the defense industry stabilizes the state’s economy, and “it’s important for our future to preserve the state’s valuable defense jobs by working hard to accommodate the needs of Washington’s military bases and defense industries, as well as the military personnel who serve our nation.”

Besides calling on the state to back our military, you’ll notice he included “industry,” “economy” and “jobs.” That’s gotta be worth something.

County to Pay for Bulk of Ferry Study

One of the items of the Kitsap County commissioners’ agenda for Monday will be an allocation of the county’s hotel-motel tax revenues.

Typically such a meeting can invite a long line of those testifying, from those saying “Thank you” to those pleading for changes.

I don’t know what to expect on that score on Monday.

Part of what will be on the list of expenditures will be different than the allocations I’ve seen in the past. There will be $50,000 to help pay for an economic analysis of the ferry system’s impact on the East side.

This was the kind of study suggested less than a year ago in a meeting of Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council members, but eventually shelved when the different agencies that belong agreed they’d have trouble finding money in the budget.

What’s pushing this now, of course, is Washington State Ferries’ long-term proposals, one that would continue the current service as is and another that would reduce boats in Bremerton and Southworth and would reduce night service at those docks and in Kingston.

Commissioner Steve Bauer said the analysis would not be complete before the end of the Legislature. That could be a problem if legislators insist on picking one plan or another before “Sine Die,” the end of the session. Bauer is hoping the legislators will agree to push it at least another year, because whatever decision they make this year won’t have any financial impact until at least 2011.

The total cost of the study is expected to be in the neighborhood of $75,000. The remaining amount would need to come from the KRCC’s other members.

Bremerton Car Tabs and a Possible Increase

Clearly this would be an issue that would interest folks in all jurisdictions, so I’ll place the conversation here.

As you may have read in the story Thursday, Bremerton is considering an increase to car tabs within the city. The council could approve up to $20 more on your tabs (The basic rate is $33.75) to improve the roads and sidewalks in town.

Phil Williams, the city’s public works director, estimates the city will spend $175,000 on road preservation in 2009. The car tabs would add about $600,000, but might not all go to preservation. City Councilman Nick Wofford, the man behind the proposal, has suggested 75 percent go to preservation and the rest to sidewalks and other non-motorized transportation uses.

The Legislature gave counties and cities the ability to do this in the 2007 session. Counties and cities can add $20 a year without a vote and up to $100 with one.

To date, no one is charging the extra fee, but Des Moines, Lake Forest Park and Edmonds will soon. Olympia, Burien and Prosser have joined Bremerton in considering it.

For more history on car tabs, particularly in Bremerton, you can go to the following links:

More of Steven Gardner’s Links

Pay No Attention to the Ferries

<i>Some wonder if this is Washington State Ferries Plan B.</i>
Some wonder if this is Washington State Ferries Plan B.

The county’s four mayors and two of its county commissioners stopped by the Kitsap Sun Tuesday for a little discussion with the editorial board about ferries. One by one they took turns saying how united they are in how important it is that the state fund ferries, that it not cut back service and that anything that would reduce service and leave it to us to fund it would be an unfunded mandate.

Along the way, Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola made the following statement:

“I have to wonder if all the panic over Plan B isn’t so we’ll accept Plan A.”

Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kordonowy suggested perhaps Washington State Ferries has presented Plan B, which would reduce Bremerton to one boat and reduce service in South Kitsap and Kingston, as a “straw man.”

We on this side have been saying, “You can’t keep raising fares,” so the response is to get us fighting over something else.

It may be a valid question. Earlier this year I asked county commissioner Steve Bauer if Plan A, essentially no change in service, would be a victory coming out of this legislative session and he said it would be. So could this be some tactic to get us to be grateful for the service we have? If it is, I get the sense that the local reaction is that Plan A is not enough. State Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, in asking for a “Plan C” is telling the state ferry riders and other locals can come up with something better. Sure, use smaller boats during off-peak hours, they say.

Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade, county commissioner Josh Brown, and Coppola all suggested the state should consider shedding its demand that the new boats be built in Washington in favor of something that gives this state’s boat builders an advantage, but also makes them compete.

Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman said the state does need to recognize the ferries as part of the state highway system. When a highway is down, the state fixes it. When a ferry goes down, the state says it doesn’t have the money to fix it.

County commissioner Charlotte Garrido (She was interrupted by Kitsap Sun Publisher Mike Levi at least three times, by my count. Note: When writing about one’s employer, one might make sure said employer knows it’s coming. Actually, Levi’s interruptions were not as bad as it might appear and the fact that it seemed to be happening to Garrido was probably coincidental. ) said King County needs to know the economic impact ferries have over there.

Coppola said, “If we boycotted the car ferries for a week,” then traffic between here and Seattle would be jammed.

Brown said WSF’s plans also don’t match the state’s goal of reducing carbon emissions and that one of the big problems is that there is not a regionwide plan.

And when I-5 and I-90 were out earlier this month because of flooding, guess what kept running? The ferries, they all agreed.

The problem here is that for now this is the sound of one hand clapping. House Speaker Frank Chopp, who grew up in Bremerton but now represents a Seattle district, remained silent last week when he had the opportunity to speak up about ferries.

When Associated Press reporter Curt Woodward wrote his legislative preview story, he included mentions of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and stadiums. Not a word about ferries.

I just did a Google search for “Washington State Ferries” in the news section. On the first two pages, when it was sorted by date, only two items were not from Kitsap. One was in Crosscut by someone discussing the proposed closure of the Anacortes-Canada run. The other was in the Seattle P-I, by someone from Poulsbo.

We talk about it, we yell about it and we stomp our feet, and so far the woods are empty.

What to Do with the Bremerton Tunnel

With one of the plans calling for auto ferry service to be cut to less than half what it is now, it could make that tunnel being built downtown less useful than critics argue it would be anyway.

It’s getting built, though, so we better use it.

If the tunnel is used for offloading ferry cars once or twice a day, what should we use it for the rest of the time?

And here’s another video in which a local politician talks about ferries, and in this case it’s related to the tunnel. Wait for the second question.

Hey Kitsap, Get Used to Fewer Ferries

More telling than what they said Tuesday, was the body language. In the morning I asked the party leaders from both houses of the Legislature about ferries, but made the mistake of starting the question by naming one of the legislators, Senate Minority Leader Mike Hewitt. I did not address the question specifically to him, but that’s how the legislators heard it, because I mentioned that he had said transportation funding would be difficult. Because I mentioned Hewitt, it apparently left an opening for House Speaker Frank Chopp, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt and Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown to remain silent. I did ask that they address ferries specifically in the funding. Hewitt said nothing about ferries. Chopp, Brown and DeBolt remained silent about everything.

In the last session, with two reps from the governor’s office, the ferry question got more attention than some in the audience might have preferred. The message was clear, that it won’t work to not identify the funding if the status quo plan is adopted by the Legislature. It also looked to me that Victor Moore, the governor’s budget director, was clearly uncomfortable with the subject matter, leaving a few of us from Kitsap to conclude that the prospects for ferries is not good.

We then went and visited with state Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor. I wouldn’t characterize his demeanor as optimistic for ferry fans, but he seems ready for a fight. “Five-twenty is not going to be a two-lane road. Plan B is the equivalent of a two-lane road,” he said. Plan B, by the way, would cut Bremerton to one boat and eliminate night service there and in Kingston.

Then you read Ed Friedrich’s story on the what a legislative transportation policy group did and it seems the writing is on the wall. They met, said they’ll try to make the coming cut as painless as possible, then disbanded.

Prior to the election we asked the governor what was going to happen with ferries. Specifically we asked if ferry customers would feel better about the system in four years than they do now. I don’t think she tried to predict how customers would feel, but she said the state would run ferries like a business. That sounds a lot like what Jill Satran, the governor’s transportation policy expert, was saying yesterday.

“It’s all a matter of what can we pay to provide,” she said. “We either have to cut routes or skinny down the entire system. We’re looking at the best way to mitigate the impact on riders, and this looks like a possible way to do that.”

You can see the governor’s pre-election conversation about the budget and about ferries by watching the video below.

County Unhappy with Ferry Plans

At Monday morning’s county commissioner meeting, all three commissioners were displeased with the proposals put forward by Washington State Ferries as to how it will deal with the long-term outlook. The most recent proposal could mean Bremerton is down to one boat, night service could be eliminated there and in Kingston and passenger service will be left to locals to pay for.

Commissioner Steve Bauer said it amounts to another unfunded mandate. It’s not truly a mandate, because the state would be saying you can have the service if you want, but you’ll have to pay for it. Nonetheless, you might be hard pressed to find many on this side of the sound who think the service isn’t a critical part of the infrastructure.

New commissioner Charlotte Garrido said the state has been treating the ferry system as a “postcard,” not a critical highway element. She also faulted the state for contending it needs ferry money to pay for highway work, when ferries are technically part of the state’s highway system too.

More to come.

Green News

On Tuesday the Port of Bremerton is scheduled to vote on whether to accept the $2.58 million grant it has been offered by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration. Should the port decide to move ahead with Kitsap SEED, it will have to match the federal grant funds. Last time the commissioners delayed the vote so everyone could read the consultant’s report.

The Columbian has a story about U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., visiting the area and talking about green energy, specifically the bailout bill’s ornaments for green technology. Included in the story was a discussion about the power grid.

Now political leaders need to fix the nation’s electric grid, said Chris Crowley, president of Columbia Wind. “Our infrastructure is held together with chewing gum and bailing wire.”

Because of the grid’s age and limits in its design, wind power generated in rural areas cannot always be moved along transmission lines to the high-population areas where electricity users live.

When U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, was here, I mentioned infrastructure projects as part of his video’d Q&A. This was before the second vote in which the bailout bill passed. I brought up transportation projects, he specifically called out the power grid.

Congressman Dicks on Video

The main news peg from our meeting Tuesday morning with U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair, was his assertion that the Suquamish Tribe is probably not going to bend easily to pressure to OK the boardwalk Bremerton wants. Here’s the story.

Included with the story is a short video in which Dicks defends the tunnel. That question is part of the four questions on the video I’ll include here.

The video also proves that there is a reason I went into print reporting instead of broadcasting.

As I mentioned in another post, the first question has me correctly saying “Senator Obama” instead of “President Obama,” but I said “president” first. What you hear is me correcting myself and laughing about it.

Worth Watching — Paine Field

Jerry Cornfield at the (Everett) Herald has been providing updates on what has become politically hot, whether to introduce commercial flights at Paine Field.

It should interest you, because the company that appears to be the most interested is Allegiant Air, a company looking at launching Bremerton-Las Vegas round trips. It’s a county decision, but the city of Mukilteo is against and hired a consultant who sent a mass e-mail critical of Allegiant for starting, then abandoning service in several locations. The airline responded.

Less Oil for the Roads

Earlier I mentioned the commissioners discussing energy conservation and oil prices. Dunagan is on the conservation issue. He brought back the charts from the other conversation and I’m on that.

The bottom line is oil prices are making asphalt prices go up. So the county is responding by dramatically reducing the number of roads on which it will apply a final overlay of asphalt when it goes in to repair them. In terms of lane mileage (One lane for one mail equals one lane mile. Two lanes for one mile equals two lane miles.) to be replaced in 2008, it’s going from about 45 miles to about 22. That other 23 miles or so will still get the patchwork, just not the layer on top that makes it look like a brand new road.

The price of asphalt has gone from $41 a ton to $57, and is about to go to $70.

In 2009 the county is projecting the cost to be around $82.

The cost savings is expected to be about $1.5 million this year and $1.9 million in 2009.

Oil on the Agenda

This morning, assuming the county commissioners’ briefing agenda holds true, the commissioners have discussed fuel in two ways. One conversation is in regards to recommendations being made by an energy conservation commission.  The other discussion is the impact of oil prices on the Public Works department. Chris Dunagan is attending.

In a related note, did you know U.S. fuel consumption was down 3 percent during the first half of this year? I’ve been interested in Derek Sheppard’s hypermiling experiment and I suggest after this that you should get interested too.