A rendering of the new and improved Colman Dock.

Docks & Depots

Age may make you wiser, but it can also make you structurally iffy—certainly for some WSF terminals and docks last renovated in the mid-1960s. Add to that the realities of major seismic activity and waterlogged timber, and you’ve got some work to do. A handful of terminal improvements are in progress, the biggest of which is downtown Seattle’s Colman Dock Replacement Project.

→ Breaking Up: 7,400 tons of timber removed from Elliott Bay and swapped with earthquake-ready concrete and steel.

→ On the Catwalk: A new, elevated walkway connects the terminal building to a new facility for passenger-only ferries.

→ The Life Aquatic: In-water construction will halt whenever orcas or seals (and hopefully salmon, though they’re harder to detect) pop up nearby.

→ Price Tag: $373 million.

Growth Spurt

As Seattle and its surroundings continue to spike in population, so, too, does ferry ridership. There were 24.7 million riders in 2018—that’s just shy of the record high 26.8 million in 1999’s pre-telecommuting days; WSF expects to surpass that figure by 2028. Come 2040, well, that number will hover around 32 million.

→ 30 percent increase in ridership by 2040.

→ Estimated 38 percent increase in population by 2040.

Peak Fleet

Currently 23 boats whisk travelers to and fro throughout the Salish Sea. But of those, more than a dozen are over 30 years old. That’s halfway to retirement age in boat years. The plan? Construct 16 new hybrid-electric vessels: five 144-car carrying ferries—aka Olympic Class—by 2028, plus another 11 to arrive by 2037.  

Know Your Animals

Harbor Seals

Along with ducks and gulls, you’ll spy these common seals (Phoca vitulina) sun bathing on buoys, docks, or secluded shores.


You either love them or you hate them, but you certainly can’t miss them—most often it’s the Glaucous-Winged Gull (Larus glaucescens) loitering about the pier or flying over ferries.


Of four distinct groups of killer whales (Orcinus orca)—offshores, northern residents, southern residents, and transients—the latter two groups are commonly found in Puget Sound, though whale populations are down and only dwindling further.


Long and slender with pointed tails, the occasional North American river otter (Lontra canadensis) may appear dockside in Puget Sound, even Elliott Bay.

Editor's Note: This article was updated May 8, 2019 to reflect that the Glaucous-Winged Gull (not the Western Gull) is seen most often around these parts.

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