A provision inserted into the state house transportation budget by state Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34), who represents West Seattle, would require the state Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to preserve passenger ferry service (and transit access) at Colman Dock on the south end of the central waterfront. Colman Dock is being rebuilt as part of the viaduct replacement process; WSDOT has proposed a plan for the dock that would eliminate passenger ferries that serve Vashon Island, West Seattle, and Kingston, forcing King County, which operates the ferries, to find a new location.

"the department shall ensure that multimodal access, including for passenger-only ferries and transit service providers, is maintained at the Seattle terminal and included in any future modifications at the terminal," the budget now says.

Asked about the seeming disconnect between WSDOT's proposal and the budget language, Fitzgibbon said, "Most legislators feel pretty strongly that we want good connections between the different modes. I'll let them make that case [that the passenger ferries need to go], but i'm not convinced that that's true."

Advocates for passenger ferries, including King County Council member Joe Fitzgibbon, have argued that there is no better location on the waterfront for passenger boats than Colman Dock. The city says that nearby Piers 62 and 63 don't provide easy connections to downtown and would, at any rate, have to be rebuilt themselves (at great time and expense, including a lengthy environmental review process); meanwhile, two other nearby piers are currently leased by a private tour company, Argosy Cruises.

Marshall Foster, the city's planning director, says the city is working with the state to come up with a way to keep passenger ferry service near Colman Dock---perhaps in the area just north of the dock that is now a lot for cars lining up to board ferries, which would become open waterfront under the current Colman Dock replacement plan.

If that doesn't work, the city could make a deal with Argosy, but that would be less than ideal, Foster says, because it would only provide one slip for passenger boats to dock. The current dock has two slips, and several other regional ferry agencies, including Kitsap Transit and the Port of Port Townsend, have expressed an interest in running passenger ferries to Seattle, which would require an expansion to four ferry slips.

Because it's attached to a budget, Fitzgibbon's language would expire in 2013, when the budget has to be renewed.
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