Traffic moves north on Highway 525 past an empty ferry lane Thursdayin Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Traffic moves north on Highway 525 past an empty ferry lane Thursdayin Mukilteo. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Even with new terminal, old Highway 525 ferry lane staying put

A reader asked if there were plans to turn the lane on the hill south of 5th Street into a bike and pedestrian space.

Like the ebb and flow of the tide along its waterfront, there’s a rhythm around downtown Mukilteo.

Drivers steadily stream down Highway 525 to the ferry terminal, and every 30 minutes or so, surge up the hill in the rush from the link to south Whidbey Island.

In the past, during busy holidays or one-boat service, the vehicle queue could start south of Olympic View Middle School where the official ferry lane formed.

Ever since the new terminal opened in late 2020 about one-third of a mile away from its longtime location on Front Street, it drew the majority of vehicle backups closer to the terminal.

With fewer vehicles clogging that pavement as often as before, it led Ralph Munson, of Mukilteo, to ask The Daily Herald if change was in its future. Specifically, he wondered about plans to convert that right-of-way into bike lanes and sidewalks.

In short, no.

Diane Rhodes, a spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, wasn’t aware of any plans by the division of the Washington State Department of Transportation to give up the existing ferry lane along the highway.

“That lane can easily fill with waiting ferry traffic during the summer months,” Rhodes wrote in an email.

Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine confirmed the city isn’t pushing to remove that lane, which would be up to the state because it is a state highway.

“Even with the new ferry lanes, it’s still backing up,” Marine said.

Highway 525 is the primary route in Mukilteo and effectively its transportation spine, he said. It makes for a complicated relationship, where it’s a vital route but can be challenging for placemaking efforts to have a heavily used, high-speed and multi-lane road.

“If I had my way, we wouldn’t need that backup lane going up the hill,” Marine said.

If the city’s top executive had all of his druthers, that space would be a separated 12-foot-wide biking and walking lane, Marine said.

Instead, Mukilteo is focusing staff time on spots where it has more direct influence along the corridor. The city’s capital improvement program, a running list of construction projects being pursued and built, has several bike and pedestrian items in the area.

The list includes sidewalk construction on the east side of Highway 525 between 2nd and 3rd Streets, curb and sidewalk improvements to 76th Street at Highway 525, and bike and pedestrian improvements to 5th Street.

On the hill south of 5th Street, the shoulder leaves little room for someone to bike or walk up as drivers zoom past. The available existing paved space is adjacent to the ferry lane.

“Alternative transportation modes that contribute to healthy life styles should be encouraged” for access to the Mukilteo waterfront and multimodal station, according to Mukilteo’s comprehensive plan, a long-range guiding document.

For now, the rhythm of the ferry lane will beat on.

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