As I reported yesterday, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has proposed a plan for replacing the dock with a new terminal that would not include passenger ferry service to West Seattle (the water taxi, which provides 30,000 trips a month) or between downtown and Vashon Island.
The move would force King County, which operates the passenger ferries and the water taxi, to relocate somewhere else along the waterfront. The Port of Kingston, which runs passenger ferries between Kingston and Seattle, would also be impacted, along with two other ferry operators---the Port of Port Townsend and Kitsap Transit---that hoped to eventually provide passenger ferry service to and from Colman Dock.
State ferry system director Davie Moseley told me WSDOT's proposal was "just the beginning part of the scoping process" for replacing Colman Dock, and that the state is still open to proposals to keep passenger ferry service at or near its current location. "This is not a final plan. It's not the end of the conversation," Moseley says.
"I've suggested to the agencies that ... it would in their interest to get together and determine where do they want to be on the waterfront," Moseley adds.
However, King County Council member Joe McDermott, who represents Vashon and West Seattle, says that "barring [the county] inserting ourselves into the conversation, which we're very much doing," the state would have probably moved forward with the proposed plan.
"[Ferry officials] made the point that this isn't the final plan. It's not. But we'd be having a very different conversation if they hadn't proposed this plan," McDermott says.
Moseley says "There are certainly other options along the central waterfront," including the city-owned Piers 62 and 63.
However, according to the city's transportation department, both of those piers are "aged and deteriorating, and can no longer bear the load of heavy weights."
I have a call out to SDOT to find out what kind of repairs, if any, would be needed for the piers to accommodate heavy pedestrian traffic from ferries. (SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan said the agency had no comment on the Colman Dock proposal, but that SDOT does plan to submit formal comments to WSDOT as part of the scoping process).
And unlike other piers to the north, which don't offer direct access to downtown (or require ferry riders to walk up a steep hill to get to transit), Colman Dock is well-situated for ferry passengers, providing easy access to King Street Station and the downtown tunnel, as well as the city's largest job center.
"It makes sense to co-locate [car and passenger ferries] at Colman Dock, which is already a transit hub, instead of spreading those trips up and down the waterfront," McDermott says.
Some have suggested that, by proposing the elimination of passenger ferry service, the state is trying to avoid the need for a costly and time-consuming Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), a concern Moseley acknowledges. But moving passenger ferry service elsewhere would effectively hand environmental review responsibilities off to the county, and it doesn't want to do an EIS any more than the state does. "We're talking huge amounts of money and a long period of time to even discuss the possibility of another location," McDermott says.
The fate of Seattle's passenger ferry terminal won't be decided quickly. With the scoping process just underway, Moseley estsimates that it will be at least a year and a half to two years before construction starts. In the meantime, there's a public meeting to discuss the whole dock replacement proposal tomorrow, Feb. 16, from 3:30 to 6:00 pm in the PSRC meeting room at 1011 Western Ave., Suite 500.