By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
Are members of the Community Advisory Group for the Fauntleroy ferry dock/terminal replacement plan being rushed along to get buy-in on potential locations without enough information for a true comparison?
That’s what some suggested at last night’s meeting, a followup to the one two weeks ago (WSB coverage here) at which Washington State Ferries presented nine “draft alternatives,” including Lowman Beach and Lincoln Park.
Some CAG members also suggested the process is putting too much emphasis on dock location/size when some of the biggest issues, like traffic, could and should be addressed operationally, and long before the replacement is built (currently expected in 2025-2027).
Here’s how the meeting unfolded:
PUBLIC COMMENTS: While the advisory-group meetings don’t include public-comment periods, WSF is inviting and collecting reaction in other ways, such as email. Since the meeting two weeks ago, here’s what WSF has heard – they’re continuing to provide the full comment log to the advisory-group members:
CAG member Judy Pickens from Fauntleroy said a “more accurate” description of the second bullet point would be “negative reaction” to Lowman Beach and Lincoln Park as possibilities; she said the comments hadn’t included anything positive about either of those two possible alternative locations. Here’s the comment log provided to group members before this meeting:
(You can also see it here.) CAG member Larry Harala from Kitsap County said that in his view, this project will help with a lot of the recurring issues about which commenters voice concern. He also observed that this is a “regional, statewide facility that serves hundreds of thousands of people” so he doesn’t want to see opinions from “a vocal extreme minority” get disproportionate consideration. He also stressed that not everyone is heading to downtown Seattle. Member Gary English wondered, nonetheless, is it still possible that Colman Dock downtown could add another slip, meaning Fauntleroy could be a smaller, lower-traffic dock? Member David McDaniel added that the dock needs to retain a “residential design” because of its setting. That discussion will be in a future phase, he was told.
PROJECT BUDGET AND OTHER HOLDOVER QUESTIONS: WSF was asked for more information on this last time, so they brought the answer to this meeting. The Legislature approved $94 million, including $10 million for planning/permitting/engineering and $60 million for construction, said WSF’s David Sowers. The rest is set aside for “risk,” to cover unforeseen expenses that might arise as this moves toward construction “in the ’25-’27 biennium” (though he mentioned as an aside that the process is running about a year later than originally anticipated). WSF also brought added detail on two of the nine alternatives’ dimensions – Alternative B would lengthen the dock by 220 feet; Alternative C would widen the dock by 60 feet.
Then the meeting moved on to reaction to the “draft alternatives” – first, WSF asked the group members to discuss this map from last meeting showing the initial comparison of possible general areas for the terminal rebuild/replacement:
DRAFT ALTERNATIVES: That map covers many more possible locations than the 9 reviewed at the last meeting, it was clarified, than you’d think – even though the discussion two weeks ago focused only on possibilities in the greater Fauntleroy area. Many initial questions/comments last night were answered by a version of “that’ll be something we look at later in the process.” CAG member Michelle McCormick said she felt in particular the Jack Block Park area would be worth examining, because it could at some point connect to a light-rail spur. Several other CAG members disagreed, saying the travel times to Jack Block/Eliott Bay from Vashon and/or Southworth would be “crushing.” English said he felt possible locations should be evaluated on a weighted scale, with more data to facilitate that. More “downtown vs. Fauntleroy” discussion ensued; several expressed concern that since WSF says the route will not likely have more than three boats, sending some or all trips on the longer journey downtown would mean fewer trips and therefore lower capacity for the route. Sailing time isn’t the only factor by which efficiency could be measured, stressed member Frank Immel. Harala added that sending boats downtown would seem redundant to existing service – the Seattle/Bremerton route and the Southworth-Seattle foot ferry. A supporter of keeping the terminal in Fauntleroy observed that trying to negotiate with another community for a new terminal would take a lot of time and effort on WSF’s party.
That was all just commentary on the overview map of general possible locations. Next set of questions:
Here again are the nine “draft alternatives,” as first shown at the March 2nd meeting:
Pickens said she didn’t see a “range” of alternatives in what had been proposed so far – including a lack of anything that would reduce traffic. She would propose that Fauntleroy no longer serve drivers headed for downtown – that those drivers all be ferried to Southworth, where they could drive to Bremerton to catch a boat to downtown. WSF’s Mark Bandy said – again – that would all come in at Level 2 of the discussion. “Then you are wasting our time,” retorted Pickens. Without addressing traffic, she believes, “we are treading water.”
Member Mardi Clements pronounced Pickens’s observations “important” and also said WSF has yet to provide information addressing the various needs that have been cited as reasons for a new terminal, like seismic. And, “none of these alternatives work if you don’t have rapid vehicle processing,” she said flatly. Requiring users to buy tickets online, with tollbooths as backups, could address that problem right now, she said. “A completely pre-ticketed queue” would reduce traffic and delays, she declared. The remaining toll booths – for vehicles that can’t buy online tickets – could be placed far from the dock. She accused WSF of ignoring 20 years of recommendations to do Good To Go or something similar, so online ticketing should be implemented ASAP.
WSF’s Marsha Tolon – after noting she missed most of Clements’s lengthy, spirited exhortation due to connectivity problems – said the location really needs to be settled first. Bandy then said there would be some traffic information in the Level 1 consideration. Clements said there still should be a screening question much sooner that would help sort out the differentiations on points such as traffic.
Member Scott Harvey said a second slip could speed up loading (the WSF Long-Range Plan calls for one at Southworth by 2040), and traffic could be addressed by one of the proposed alternatives that would use a Lincoln Park lot as a holding zone.
That’s when WSF asked if the members wanted to “slow down the process” and add more locations for discussion, or press on ahead and get to the higher level of review. Even those who seemed OK with the process’s current pace still yearned for more information to assist them in evaluating the potential locations.
QUESTIONS ABOUT QUESTIONS: The group members then were asked if they were OK with the screening questions to be used while further reviewing the alternatives:
None of those responding were particularly thrilled with them; Pickens described them as “superficial.” She added, “Giving a do-pass to Level 1 questions suggests we agree with the alternatives, which is definitely not the case.” Added Clements, “None of the questions would screen out any of the alternatives.” WSF reps agreed “that doesn’t feel resolved.” This all happened as the meeting was being rushed at the end, with the two-hour mark arriving before there was time to thoroughly discuss evaluation of the questions.
A community feedback period is coming up soon, with online community meetings to be scheduled for late April, and an “online open house” planned April-May. The Community Advisory Group will likely reconvene before all that, and WSF expects it’ll be invited to give additional briefings for community organizations. Also, the project’s Technical Advisory Group meets next Thursday (March 24) – the registration link is here.
HOW TO COMMENT: As shown earlier in the story, WSF continues to catalog incoming comments and provide them to the Community Advisory Group. You can get yours on the record by emailing FauntleroyTermProj@wsdot.wa.gov.