WSF solicits feedback on Fauntleroy ferry dock redesign

A recent meeting brought ferry staff together with members of serviced communities.

A range of dock options at Fauntleroy — including some that could eliminate the pile-up of traffic bound for Vashon and Southworth — were discussed Wednesday, Oct. 25 during a Washington State Ferries (WSF) meeting.

The Oct. 25 meeting brought WSF staff together with community advisory group members and participants from across the Triangle route’s serviced communities.

The route connects passengers between Seattle, Vashon island and Southworth on the Kitsap Peninsula. Since the fall of 2021, it has been reduced to a two-boat schedule due to a WSF staffing crisis, rather than the three-boat schedule it has traditionally run on.

Along with restoring ferry service, the future of the aging dock is crucial for Vashon residents, who rely on the Triangle route to access the Seattle area.

But rebuilding the dock won’t be easy. Material and labor costs for engineering projects have ballooned in the last few years. The dock itself is heavily used and its room to grow is already very tight, because the dock juts out of a well-developed residential neighborhood.

“This is gonna be a challenging site to construct on because of the limitations in our right-of-way,” WSF director of terminal engineering David Sowers said during the meeting.

And efforts to build a bigger dock there have historically earned opposition from some West Seattle residents. In fact, the Seattle City Council in April 1997 unanimously passed a resolution asking WSF to “initiate no expansion of the Fauntleroy Ferry dock, and … take all practicable steps to reduce existing ferry traffic and mitigate the impacts of the ferry dock on the surrounding neighborhood.”

That resolution cited the residential nature of the neighborhood, the environmental value of salmon-bearing Fauntleroy Stream nearby, traffic congestion from ferry traffic and argued most Fauntleroy ferry users don’t have a significant connection to West Seattle.

That resolution doesn’t necessarily block WSF from doing anything, and now more than 25 years later, the current Seattle city council may not even agree with it anymore.

While the state legislature has recently poured millions into new funding for hiring and retention programs, WSF has struggled to reach the number of workers it needs to get the ferries back up to regular service. Retirements from an aging workforce and separations due to the state’s now-lifted vaccine mandate have not helped those numbers.

Fauntleroy’s future

The aging Fauntleroy terminal has seismically vulnerable parts and is also vulnerable to damage from rising sea levels. More than 1,000 tons of aging creosote-treated timber presents a pollution problem and causes debris to snag and collect under the trestle, inhibiting fish from the nearby Fauntleroy Creek.

But perhaps most obvious to regular motorists is that the dock is too small for the number of cars that take the Triangle route — leading to long backups in the residential West Seattle neighborhood that cradles it, and inefficient loading on the dock itself.

Issaquah-class ferries that use the dock hold 124 cars each, but the dock only holds about 84 cars. Meanwhile, traffic on Fauntleroy Way SW is often a mess, with a non-signaled three way intersection and only a single lane to serve two destinations.

Through the redesign process, WSF has ruled out moving the dock to a new location, staff said, or building a dock that would require major change to the roadway, transit routes or local parks.

That means the new docks, even the biggest, only make changes west of Fauntleroy Way SW. Each of them would be slightly wider than the current dock to give more space for large trucks and traffic queuing, and each uses a combination of dock and road space to fit 186 vehicles, or 1.5 times the capacity of the Triangle ferries.

  • Options A1 through A3 essentially recreate the current dock with modern amenities, optionally including “Good To Go!” and/or advanced ticketing capabilities. They would hold 76 to 84 vehicles, similar to the existing dock, and another 100 or so vehicles would be accommodated on the Fauntleroy Way SW shoulder.
  • Options B1 through B3 expands the dock to fit 124 to 155 vehicles, with a variety of lane options. This longer dock design neatly fits enough vehicles for an entire ferry but still needs a vehicle queue on Fauntleroy Way.
  • Option C is the biggest, fitting 186 vehicles and removing the need for a vehicle queue on Fauntleroy Way, according to WSF.

The existing dock covers about 40,500 square feet over the water, according to WSF. The largest option, Alternative C, reaches 92,000 square feet.

Meeting participants generally voiced support for the bigger docks.

One participant pointed out that additional holding space could make for better efficiency in loading and unloading ferries — thus reducing delays and late sailings.

More study will be needed, WSF staff said, as well as a traffic model of the design.

“But … if we have 124-car boats and we have 124 cars downstream from the toll booth, that will be our most efficient loading of that vessel,” Sowers said in response. “Particularly if we can stage bicycles and motorcycles safely. There’s advantages to that.”

Can the dock remain open during construction? It’s difficult to answer, Sowers said; WSF is working on figuring it out now, he said.

No matter what’s selected, the following are priorities for the new dock, WSF staff said:

  • Improvements to the Fauntleroy Way intersection just east of the dock, including a traffic signal.
  • No widening the dock over Cove Park, just north of the ramp to the dock.
  • Raising the dock and improving seismic standards to withstand earthquakes and rising sea levels.
  • Wider lanes, and dedicated lanes for walkers, roller, bikers and motorcycle drivers.
  • A new terminal building and operations space, two toll booths, a traffic attendant booth and restrooms for staff.
  • Dedicated parking spaces for picking up and dropping off people with disabilities.
  • Continuation of three-ferry service; there are no current plans to expand service beyond that on the route.

WSF plans to select its “preferred alternative” dock design by 2025. Environmental review will take place from 2025 through 2027. And WSF plans design and construction for 2027 through 2029.