EDMONDS — The state has a $14.2 billion plan to address growing pains in the nation’s largest ferry system, and the Edmonds terminal is among its priorities — even if actual details remain vague.
A draft of the Washington State Ferries long-range plan is out for public review. An open house is set for Oct. 4 in Edmonds.
Snohomish County is home to two of the busiest terminals in the ferry system. With significant upgrades coming to Mukilteo (albeit behind schedule), the latest plan turns attention to Edmonds.
Or, perhaps better put, the plan returns attention to the busy thoroughfare.
Edmonds had big dreams in the 1980s.
By the early 2000s, those dreams had become Edmonds Crossing, a planned $237 million multimodal terminal to manage ferry, train and bus traffic on former Unocal tank farm land at Point Edwards. Ferries would have sailed in and out of new slips against the south end of the Port of Edmonds Marina.
But the plan, along with other transportation projects, stalled when voters turned down a massive tax proposal in 2007. And the ensuing recession sent the rest of the money to shovel-ready projects.
Since then, condo owners moved into a high-end complex on the upper portion of the former tank farm in Woodway.
Conservation efforts to enhance and further protect the adjacent Edmonds Marsh have taken root.
Sound Transit built and then expanded Edmonds Station for rail and bus commuters.
And the city of Edmonds has embarked on an effort to connect pedestrians and first responders to the waterfront in a way that could also aid ferry traffic in emergencies.
That doesn’t mean the dream is dead.
The latest ferry plan makes “no mention of (the terminal) moving. Doesn’t mean it couldn’t,” Edmonds public works director Phil Williams said.
Still, the language “is pretty vague.”
“This will be the first plan in the last three that doesn’t identify Edmonds Crossing specifically as the solution,” he added.
Chevron continues cleanup efforts on the lower portion of the tank farm site it owns. Washington State Ferries expects to take possession in 2019 — but as of now, it has no definite plan for the land, said Hadley Rodero, a spokeswoman.
Edmonds City Council last year hired an environmental firm to study how best to protect the marsh, while still allowing for development.
The ferry agency’s previous long-range plan, published in 2009, assumed the Edmonds terminal would remain in its current location.
The latest plan is mum on that point, but repeats the goal of making some kind of multimodal improvement to the Edmonds terminal, likely by the late 2020s.
“Everyone recognizes that things are different than when that Edmonds Crossing project was discussed,” Rodero said. “We’re planning to embark on a community planning process and work with the community and the city of Edmonds. Beyond that, no decisions have been made.”
Add a ferry?
Coupled with a decision about the terminal is a decision on how to handle the increased traffic coming its way.
The Edmonds-Kingston route already is the second busiest route for vehicles in the ferry system, with more than 2 million vehicle boardings in 2017. It sees high volumes of freight and commercial truck traffic. By 2040, the route is expected to see a further 22 percent increase in vehicles.
Planners are exploring two approaches to address ferry capacity.
One option would increase sailings by replacing the route’s two ferries — which have capacity for 188 cars and 202 cars — with three 144-car ferries. This would likely be done in stages, in 2031, 2032 and 2033.
The other option would maintain the current number of sailings, but replace the smaller ferry with a second 202-car vessel.
The first option is favored since it provides more opportunity for increased revenue and decreased congestion for other Kitsap County routes. The state also wants to shift to 144-car ferries across the fleet.
Edmonds has one ferry slip. Bracketed by public beaches on either side, the state does not own enough right-of-way to build a second slip in the current location. Edmonds Crossing had planned for two working slips, with room for a third.
Beating the train
Train traffic also is expected to grow in the coming decades. And that adds a wrinkle to meeting challenges in Edmonds, where vehicles must cross train tracks on Main Street when boarding or driving off a ferry.
“There are operational challenges now with the train crossing. As the (ferry) route continues to grow, we’ll need to address those,” Rodero said.
While it waits for long-term answers, the city is at work on a short-term solution.
Its $30 million waterfront connector project would construct an access road that spans the railroad tracks at Edmonds Street, then turns south and descends to the parking lot at Brackett’s Landing North.
The one-lane road is primarily aimed at giving emergency vehicles access to public areas and businesses along the waterfront when trains block crossings. There are more than 100 emergency calls on the other side of the tracks each year, for fires, medical responses and to take out rescue boats. Most times, the road will serve as a pathway for pedestrians to reach the waterfront.
While not a permanent solution for ferry traffic, it would address safety concerns at the terminal and could help in exceptional blocking incidents.
“In dramatic or perhaps tragic situations, we could still unload a ferry,” Mayor Dave Earling said.
Public comments were taken on conceptual plans earlier this year. Final decisions are pending, and design is ongoing. Construction could come in 2021, pending state and federal grants.
Although long-term ferry improvements for Edmonds are decades away, the clock is ticking.
The year 2025 is a key date. By then, decisions about changes to the terminal and vessels must be made. New ferries take at least seven years to design and build, and vessel decisions could affect terminal decisions.
Washington State Ferries plans to engage city leaders. But the first opportunity for public feedback comes next week at an open house about the draft long-range plan.
“We want to hear from folks,” said Rodero, the spokeswoman.
Public comment will be taken through Oct. 25. The final plan is due to the Legislature by Jan. 1.
An open house to learn more about the Washington State Ferries draft long-range plan is scheduled for 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 4 at the Edmonds Senior Center, 220 Railroad Ave.
More info: www.wsflongrangeplan.com
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