Monthly Archives: August 2011

Ferries improving on-time performance

WSF boss David Moseley, in his weekly e-letter, said the system has steadily improved its on-time performance the past three years, especiallly on the Edmonds-Kingston route. It has cut the average delay on that route in half in each of the past two summers. It was 8 minutes in 2009, 4.5 minutes in 2010, and 2.4 minutes this year. It has gone from 70 percent of sailings leaving within 10 minutes of scheduled departure time in 2009 to 97 percent in 2011. The improvements were made even with the crews slowing the boats during off-peak times to conserve fuel.

SoundRunner ferry under budget

I got SoundRunner’s e-newsletter today and apparently they’re not happy with a story I wrote last week. It says “contrary to what might have been implied by the press,” the first month of operations came in slightly under budget and, according to numbers so far for July and August, it appears they will also.

That’s great. I like ferries. They’re a neat way to get around. I hope SoundRunner does well. I think it’s on the right track.

I didn’t mean to be be a downer, but the discussion at Thursday’s meeting was not about being under budget. It was about running out of money by November. Commissioner Tom Coultas pointed out that SoundRunner lost $66,080 in June, its first month since resuming service, and  $73,607 in July. The July number hasn’t been certified by an accountant. Now if they had planned to spend more than $66,080 in June and $73,607 in July, then they’re under budget. I don’t know what was expected. If somebody does, please let me know. A projection mentioned at the meeting was to lose $19,000 in June.

The commissioners were simply doing the math. They have committed $200,000 to operating costs in each of the first four years to help SoundRunner get going. This year there was $126,000 left over from ferry grants, for a total of $326,000. According to the above numbers, they had $188,000 left going into August. At a “burn” rate of $70,000 per month, that won’t make it through November. Next year they’ll have only $200,000 for an entire year — less than $17,000 a month — not $326,000 for seven months like this year.

The newsletter implies the July number isn’t the “actual” operating cost, that the CPA doesn’t provide it until three weeks after the end of the month. There’s also talk that some expenses were charged to operating costs that shouldn’t have been. Changes to either could make the bottom line look better.

The most immediate challenge for SoundRunner is getting through the slower winter months, according to the newsletter. It’s aggressively working on options for sailing through the winter and spring. They’ll be presented to port commissioners within a few weeks.

SoundRunner is looking at a bunch of money-making opportunities, but most wouldn’t kick in until next summer. Beginning Saturday, it will be making special runs to Seahawks home games. That should be popular, for fans to be able to walk to the stadium and having the boat waiting for them afterward.

My story last week elicited a bunch of ideas from smart people about how to help SoundRunner, so that was good. Many others called for SoundRunner to be shut down immediately and to fire the commissioners. They would rather have the money spent on the marina or sitting in the bank. And though it’s hard to disagree the port shouldn’t pour money down a hole, a port is more than a marina. It’s an economic development tool. Kingston has a gorgeous marina and park area, and those should remain top priorities. Make sure there’s enough money socked away to keep them that way. With what’s left, find other ways to help the community, whether its ferry service or something else.


Port Townsend getting money for fast ferry

The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved an award of $1.3 million to the Port of Port Townsend to help it build a passenger-ony ferry and terminal for service to Seattle, U.S. Rep Norm Dicks said Monday.

Dicks said the grant was made through the Ferry Boat Discretionary program.

Dicks and Sen. Patty Murray sought help from the federal DOT to help match $1 million in funding the state had allocated to the port.

Dicks said the service would reduce the nearly three-hour travel time to 70 minutes.

“Regular ferry service will increase tourism, provide commuter access to Seattle for local residents and much-needed access to medical services and higher education opportunities,” Dicks said.

I’ll look into this more tomorrow, but I don’t know how this can be done. Even if Port Townsend gets a boat, the Port of Kingston and Kitsap Transit have shown that’s not the hard part. It’s paying to operate it, and there are few funds available for that. That 70-minute route would be hugely expensive. If they want to just run on weekends, they could possibly lease a Kingston boat, which would be a big help. If Kingston’s carrying fewer than 40 people a day at $14 a round trip, I can’t imagine how many would ride from Port Townsend at probably well over $20. I don’t know about making it in 70 minutes, either.

You never know. It’ll be fun to see what they have in mind.

Familiar contractor chosen for 520 floating bridge

The state selected Kiewit-General-Manson today to build a new Higway 520 floating bridge. The joint venture submitted a bid of $586.5 million.

If the names sound familiar, that’s because Kiewit was part of a joint venture that build the Tacoma Narrows Bridge for $735 million, it teamed with General to replace the east half of the Hood Canal floating bridge and retrofit the west side for $521 million, and Manson is working with Mowat to build a new Manette Bridge for $61 million.  They’ve been making a pretty good living off of bridges in our neighborhood.

Their proposal for the 520 Bridge was the lowest of three, and was $163.5 million less than the upset price of $750 million. I don’t know exactly what that is. I looked it up and it’s like the lowest price they’ll take for something at auction. That doesn’t make much sense here. We’ll just say it was the state estimate for now.

The other bidders were Flatiron-Skanska-Traylor and 520 Corridor Constructors. I wonder how much it costs to prepare a bid for a project as big and complicated as this. Can’t be cheap. I guess that’s an incentive to be competitive, so you don’t lose all that money you’ve invested.

It wasn’t just the bid price. Technical scores were also given, and the two combined to determine the “apparent best value” for the project. WSDOT is doing a final review and expects to award and execute the design-build contract in the coming weeks.

A design-build contract is where a designer and contractor join forces to submit a design and construction proposal with a fixed price.

Construction is scheduled to start on Lake Washington next year. WSDOT’s goal is to open the new bridge to traffic as early as December 2014. This is part of a larger project that totals about $4 billion, with the state paying a bunch of it. I don’t think they even know what the final cost will be yet. This contract is for buidling a six-lane floating bridge with wider, safer shoulders, a transit/HOV lane in each direction and a bicycle/pedestrian path. The contractor also has to tow a bunch of pontoons from Grays Harbor, build 44 smaller ones and 58 anchors, a highway approach on the east side, and a new maintenance facility and dock on the east shore of Lake Washington. Kiewit-General already has a $367 millon contract for the pontoon project in Aberdeen.