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Originally published Wednesday, November 1, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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King County delivers pair of foot-ferry plans for Vashon Island to governor

King County's plan for assuming passenger-only ferry service for Vashon Island lays out two alternatives: a triangle route serving Seattle...

Seattle Times staff reporter

King County's plan for assuming passenger-only ferry service for Vashon Island lays out two alternatives: a triangle route serving Seattle, Vashon and Southworth in Kitsap County and a direct Seattle-Vashon route.

The 61-page plan was delivered Tuesday to Gov. Christine Gregoire.

The Legislature last year put the question of passenger-only ferries into the laps of Puget Sound counties and said it wouldn't maintain Vashon passenger-only service after next July.

But King County said it would first have to create a ferry taxing district and the earliest it could begin Vashon service would be mid-2008.

Meanwhile, Kitsap County also wants to assume passenger-ferry service, looking at direct routes from Southworth to Seattle, Port Orchard to Seattle and Kingston to Seattle. It is planning an election in February to raise the sales tax 3 cents on a $10 purchase, enough to raise about $10 million a year.

Kitsap County wants to offer passenger-ferry service from Kitsap County communities to downtown Seattle, possibly bypassing Vashon, although Kitsap County Transit director Dick Hayes said the county might subcontract for a Vashon route.

In the letter sent to Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims said while the county's plan focuses on Vashon, it may consider other passenger-ferry routes, from West Seattle and across Lake Washington — which might help in mitigation efforts in the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Highway 520 floating bridge.

"Such services would increase overall mobility in the region, provide roadway-construction mitigation and provide a vital transportation link in the event of a major emergency or disaster," Sims said.

The county prefers the triangle route because it is potentially more lucrative, Sims said.

The Legislature three years ago gave counties the right to create ferry districts without a public vote and impose a property tax of 75 cents for every $1,000 of assessed value.

The Legislature also ordered the state Department of Transportation to sell the passenger ferries Chinook and Snohomish, with the money going to an account that could be used by counties to operate passenger ferries. Observers said the ferries could fetch $6 million to $9 million. One caveat is that private operators can't be used on the routes and they must operate with union labor.

Hayes said Kitsap County is willing to forfeit the money from the sale of the boats because it wants to run its boats without the maritime unions.

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Kurt Triplett, Sims' chief of staff, said two hurdles remain. Should Kitsap voters agree to raise its sales tax to pay for foot ferries, it wouldn't make sense for King County to compete.

Further, he said, he wants a commitment from the state that it won't add a Southworth-Seattle car ferry, as envisioned in a draft plan issued in April. The city of Seattle has objected, saying it doesn't want more cars in downtown Seattle.

Under the plan, the state would add the car ferry in 2014, but Mike Anderson, head of Washington State Ferries, said no final decision has been made.

The county hasn't decided how large the ferry district would be, but Metropolitan King County Councilman Dow Constantine, who represents West Seattle and Vashon, said he supports a countywide district.

"We have to serve the people on Vashon who will lose passenger-ferry service. That's my primary goal," he said.

Under the plan sent to the governor, Sims said the ferry district would be established and its boundaries defined by next May, with a property tax levied by next November. The county would assume responsibility for the Vashon service by July 1, 2008.

The plan says capital costs would be $21 million for the triangle route and $6.6 million for the direct route. Operating costs are estimated at $2.4 million for the triangle route and $1.6 million for the direct route. Service would be in morning and afternoon peak periods.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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