Sofia Samoyoa takes a photograph with a commemorative ribbon as the first car passengers to use the new Mukilteo ferry terminal off-load on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Sofia Samoyoa takes a photograph with a commemorative ribbon as the first car passengers to use the new Mukilteo ferry terminal off-load on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

New Mukilteo ferry terminal makes a much anticipated debut

The $187 million project, which opened Tuesday evening, replaces a 63-year-old terminal nearby.

MUKILTEO — As the lights from the ferry Suquamish crossed Puget Sound from Whidbey Island, onlookers gathered on the second level of the new Mukilteo ferry terminal Tuesday night. Phone cameras clicked and applause rang out as the ferry’s horn signaled the arrival of the first boat to use the facility.

Walk-on passengers strolled off the boat, waving in celebration, followed by the first car, a yellow Mazda Miata, whose driver honked the horn. Ribbons were distributed commemorating the opening.

The depot is Washington’s first new ferry terminal in 40 years.

Resembling a Native American longhouse, the $187 million project replaces a facility built in 1957 on the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry route. More than 2 million vehicles and 4 million riders use the terminal each year to travel to and from Whidbey Island, making it a major link of the nation’s largest ferry system.

At the opening Tuesday, the terminal was not yet at full glory. Access roads are not complete, elevators were not operational, overhead loading for passengers is still months away and a crane continued operating from the water even as the first ferry came and went.

Passengers didn’t seem to mind. David Jones and Michelle Hamshaw were the first walk-on passengers to get tickets at the new terminal. The Mukilteo residents have watched the construction from their deck and wanted to be a part of the opening.

MukFest Pirate George buys a walk-on ticket inside the new Mukilteo ferry terminal on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

MukFest Pirate George buys a walk-on ticket inside the new Mukilteo ferry terminal on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“This is such a beautiful upgrade to everything,” Hamshaw said. “We are really excited as owners here in old town to see the progress and the beautification of the waterfront.”

Service from Mukilteo to Clinton was halted early Tuesday so crews could move marine infrastructure along the waterfront from the old terminal to the new location on a former U.S. Air Force fueling station site, a third of a mile to the northeast. Navigational training was also part of Tuesday’s build-up before the first riders passed through.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, a ceremonial opening was abandoned, though Gov. Jay Inslee, ferries Director Amy Scarton and others, including Washington’s two U.S. senators, tribal members, ferry workers and local politicians and residents, made remarks and cut a ribbon on a video.

“The largest ferry system in the country has a new facility we can all be proud of and as we recover from COVID-19, it is a symbol of the bright future we are building in Washington,” Inslee said before cutting the ribbon.

Toll booths opened at 5 p.m. ahead of the inaugural departure of the ferry Suquamish. The Suquamish arrived in Mukilteo on time at 5:50 p.m. from Clinton before departing a half hour later.

“This is about connecting Washington’s marine highways with the rest of our transportation system, connections that are door to door, not just dot to dot,” Roger Millar, the state transportation secretary, said in the video.

People admire artwork visible from the walk-on passenger stairway at the new Mukilteo ferry terminal on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People admire artwork visible from the walk-on passenger stairway at the new Mukilteo ferry terminal on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The terminal was described as state-of-the-art, built for a rise in sea level and better equipped in the event of an earthquake. Tribal art marks the toll boths and decorates the inside of the building.

“It’s a critical connection to Island County for jobs and medical care,” said state Rep. Dave Paul, whose district includes Island and parts of Snohomish and Skagit counties.

The new space is a short walk from the Sounder rail station and a park-and-ride. It is also removed from the congestion of Lighthouse Park and the surrounding eateries.

A promenade through the terminal will connect Lighthouse and Edgewater parks on the waterfront.

“It is a great day despite the rain and the pandemic,” said Jennifer Gregerson, mayor of Mukilteo. “It’s really amazing to have the waterfront reclaimed and to see the beginning of the reopening of the east side of our waterfront.”

The new facility includes 700-foot holding lanes that accommodate nearly 250 vehicles, or about one and a half ferries. The space is larger than the previous lot, which should relieve Mukilteo Speedway of some congestion.

People at the new Mukilteo ferry terminal cheer as the first passengers off-load on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People at the new Mukilteo ferry terminal cheer as the first passengers off-load on Tuesday. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Delays hampered the 16-year project to replace the 63-year-old terminal. Ian Sterling, spokesperson for Washington State Ferries, said the first paperwork discussing a new ferry terminal in Mukilteo began in 1976.

“This is a really big deal for us and it’s a huge improvement for Mukilteo,” Sterling said.

The old terminal near the Ivar’s Seafood Restaurant will be torn down and removed.

A ticket to ride from Mukilteo is $5.55, or $2.75 for seniors and those ages 6 to 18. Children 5 and under are free. Cost for a vehicle and driver is $9.90.

Ian Davis-Leonard: 425-339-3448; idavisleonard@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @IanDavisLeonard.

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