County exec candidates call into question Vashon foot ferry

Riders board the passenger-only ferry. - Jim Evans photo
Riders board the passenger-only ferry.
— image credit: Jim Evans photo

King County Councilmember Larry Phillips on Thursday called for redirecting money from the county's newly created ferry district and putting those funds instead into the county's cash-strapped regional bus service.

In a news release issued late Thursday, Phillips, a candidate for King County Executive, said the ferry district's recently approved tax dollars should go to Metro, which is facing potentially drastic cuts, rather than into "a more expensive and selective enhancement like passenger ferry service."

It's not equitable to use a countywide tax like the one levied by the ferry district to provide services such as the Elliott Bay water taxi and the Vashon passenger ferry, "which only benefit one corner of the county," he added in his release.

Phillips could not be reached for comment about his news release.

However, County Councilmember Dow Constantine, also a candidate for county executive, blasted Phillips' comments, calling the latest volley in the debate over the future of the ferry district "a cheap political ploy."

Constantine, who chairs both the ferry district and the regional transit committee, said taking money away from Vashon's passenger-only ferry service would dump countless cars onto Seattle roads. The ferry service, he added, should be seen not as a luxury but as a kind of "rural bus route."

"Demanding that one transit route be cut ... because it runs on open water is amazingly arbitrary," Constantine said.

County services often favor certain geographic areas, he added. The newly opened Sound Transit system, for instance, "unarguably ... is a greater benefit to the people who live closer to the light rail lines. Larry knows that. He's supported all of those things."

The ferry district was created in April 2007, in part because of the state's decision to no longer fund the popular but costly Vashon-downtown Seattle route. The district's board of supervisors — made up of the nine members of the county council — voted late last year to tax property owners 5.5 cent per $1,000 of assessed value to pay for the service. The board also decided to expand the service beyond Vashon and the West Seattle water taxi and implement demonstration routes across Lake Washington and other parts of Puget Sound.

But with the primary for the hotly contested executive seat less than three weeks away, all the candidates have turned up the heat — and the ferry district has become one of the more spirited issues among them.

Ross Hunter, a state representative from Medina and candidate for county executive, for instance, has also blasted the ferry district.

"We are ... spending millions to provide transportation options for at most a few thousand people in West Seattle and Vashon Island," he stated on his campaign Web site.

Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat has also entered the fray, commenting in a column last week — headlined "The folly of foot ferries" — that the new ferry district's costs don't pencil out.

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