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State proposes only slight ferry schedule changes, improvements at dock

By SUSAN RIEMER
Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber Reporter
February 25, 2014 · Updated 4:24 PM
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The 124-car Cathlamet will replace the 87-car Klahowya this fall. / WSDOT Photo

After proposing sweeping changes to the north-end ferry schedule last year, Washington State Ferries (WSF) has put forward a more limited schedule rewrite that would only eliminate one run on the triangle route.

WSF officials will host a public meeting on Vashon this week to present proposed schedule revisions and hear feedback from islanders. Officials believe the schedule rewrite, along with proposed changes at the Fauntleroy dock, will help eliminate the ferry delays that have plagued the route.

The schedule changes are slated to take effect this fall, when the 124-car Cathlamet replaces the aging 87-car Klahowya. The proposed changes are minor revisions to the current weekday schedule, but will require additional staffing on the Fauntleroy dock to make the schedule work as planned, said Ray Deardorf, the planning director at WSF.

“We are banking on having additional traffic control on the Fauntleroy side,” Deardorf said.

The proposed schedule calls for one of the ferries to begin just 5 minutes earlier in the morning – 4:40 a.m. instead of 4:45 a.m. — with several other sailings throughout the day adjusted by 5 minutes as well. Deardorf noted the planning committee wanted to build some recovery time into the schedule in the middle of the day and eliminated the 11:35 a.m. run between Southworth and Vashon to do so.

“The philosophy was to start peak 5 minutes earlier and count on it ending 5 minutes later to give additional loading time,” Deardorf said. “No peak trips were cancelled.”

The proposal calls for two additional ferry employees to help with traffic control on the Fauntleroy dock as well as a member of the state patrol to provide additional traffic control assistance.

“The legislature is aware of the proposal, and it will be up to them to put it in the budget,” Deardorf said.

Greg Beardsley, who heads the Vashon Ferry Advisory Committee, said the proposed staffing changes would be a  return to the model used two to three years ago when the state patrol helped get cars on and off the dock quickly and safely and extra ferry staff helped ticketed cars keep moving.

Earlier this week, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-Burien) said that he and Rep. Larry Seaquist (D-Gig Harbor) are asking that the state transportation budget include funds for those positions, and he believes the money will be forthcoming. Deardorf noted the cost of the two ferry employees would be $116,000 annually, and Fitzgibbon said the cost of the state patrol cadet would be $150,000.

“I am optimistic we will be able to get the resources in the budget,” Fitzgibbon said.

Last fall the draft schedule changes drew ire from critics, including islanders who worried the more substantial changes considered then would make commuting more difficult for many while ignoring staffing needs on the Fauntleroy dock. The public response was instrumental in the creation of this proposal, Beardsley said.

“It’s only because everyone stood up last fall and raised a big fuss that the ferry system moved forward to where they are at, I think,” he said. “It was a very heavy lift to get them to the conclusion to do this.”

Both Deardorf and Beardsley said the committee created only a proposed schedule that relies on additional staff, and several ferry and government officials are pushing hard to secure the funding.

“I am very hopeful it will actually happen,” Beardsley said.

Even though the proposed schedule changes are minor, Deardorf noted that he feels it is important to host another meeting, in part as a follow-up to the meeting WSF held in October.

“We feel there might be some other issues with the schedule that we have not thought of,” he said. “And we wanted to let people there know their input was heard.”

Beardsley stressed that the proposed schedule changes affect only the weekday sailings and that Saturday sailings may be looked at in the future.  Now, he said, on Saturday evenings there are frequently long lines to get off the island. But when the Cathlamet comes on, there will be two large boats running, and that might solve the problem.

“We may end up not having an issue because of the larger boat,” he said.

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