King County dives into foot ferries
The Metropolitan King County Council, sitting as a ferry district, voted 8-1 Tuesday to get into the foot-ferry business, picking up the...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The Metropolitan King County Council, sitting as a ferry district, voted 8-1 Tuesday to get into the foot-ferry business, picking up the Vashon Island passenger ferry from the state and eventually running the West Seattle water taxi year-round.
It will also finance five demonstration routes.
The new tax, authorized by the state Legislature, will increase property taxes about a nickel for every $1,000 of assessed valuation. For a $400,000 house, that will mean about $22 a year.
The tax will revive the old mosquito fleet of ferries crisscrossing Puget Sound, said Councilmember Dow Constantine, a Democrat whose district includes Vashon Island.
"Automobiles are now in gridlock. These open waters offer a tremendous opportunity to re-establish choices for county residents to get to and from work," he said. "It's an important lifeline for Vashon residents. Let's move forward and build the mosquito fleet."
But Councilmember Reagan Dunn, R-Maple Valley, voted against the measure, saying county residents already are heavily taxed.
"We need to be thinking of the priorities we're putting on folks," he said. "This service wouldn't benefit all of King County."
Further, said Dunn, he's concerned about the state dumping programs, like foot ferries, on local governments and isn't convinced the ferries will provide a meaningful reduction in road traffic.
"You gotta think about people's pocketbooks," Dunn said, calling himself an "intelligent naysayer."
Under the plan, the county is to spend about $18 million the first year to pay for the Vashon ferry and the Elliott Bay Water Taxi, as well as five demonstration routes: Kirkland, South Puget Sound, Kenmore, Shilshole and Renton. The plan doesn't identify where the ferries would run, but the assumption is the Kirkland ferry, for example, would go to the University of Washington.
According to the plan, proposed by County Executive Ron Sims, in July 2008 King County's new ferry district will assume the financial responsibility for the Vashon Island passenger ferry, but it still will be operated by Washington State Ferries. In July 2009, King County will take it over.
The first demonstration route, Kirkland to Seattle, would begin in July 2009, and the South Sound route would be next. One demonstration route would be added each year.
The county's move was prodded by the Legislature, which in 2005 said it wouldn't continue to pay for Vashon service. A year ago Sims sent a letter to Gov. Christine Gregoire outlining the county's plans to take over that ferry service.
The Legislature four years ago gave counties the right to create ferry districts without a public vote and to impose a property tax of up to 75 cents per $1,000 of assessed value.
Dunn raised the question of how many people would actually ride these ferries.
King County Metro Transit said the 2007 season of the Elliott Bay Water Taxi saw ridership increase by 32 percent, with a total of 161,331 riders using the West Seattle-to-downtown service.
Afternoon peak ridership on the Vashon foot ferry was about 270 passengers per day last year, down from 330 passengers in 2003 and 420 in 2001. Some Vashon residents say the ridership went down, in part, because the state trimmed service.
The county estimates there will be 157,300 riders to and from Vashon in 2008, going to 161,200 by 2016.
Also in the plan:
• The West Seattle Water Taxi will operate year-round beginning in 2010.
• The county will create a Marine Division within the county's Department of Transportation to operate the foot ferries.
• The total capital costs for 10 years on the Vashon and West Seattle routes are expected to be $55.5 million, which includes the purchase or lease of three vessels, terminal rents and administrative costs. The five new routes would have capital costs of about $85 million.
• To begin service in 2009, the county will lease three 149-passenger vessels: one for Vashon; one for the water taxi; and one for backup. Eventually the county will buy its own fleet.
• The county envisions three boats leaving Vashon in the morning and three leaving Seattle in the afternoon, at a cost of $4.25 each way per passenger, or $3.60 for a commuter ticket. The trip will take 16 minutes with the new ferries, about half the time it takes today.
• The state plans to sell it's mothballed ferries, the Chinook and Snohomish, on eBay, perhaps as early as next week, and the proceeds will go to counties to help pay for foot ferries. The two boats are appraised at about $4.5 million each. The state earlier sold a ferry on eBay, the Tyee, which was purchased by a Florida man who resold it to local investors who used it as the Aqua Express and ran between Kingston and Seattle.
Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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