Pedestrians walk onto the Washington ferry Tokitae after cars are loaded for the Mukilteo to Clinton route on Monday. An overhead loading for pedestrians will be included in the city’s new $134.7 million ferry terminal. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

New schedule aimed at improving Mukilteo-Clinton sailing times

MUKILTEO — Washington State Ferries plans to test a new summer schedule for the Mukilteo-Clinton route in an effort to improve on-time performance.

A drop-in open house about the proposed changes is set for March 21 in Clinton.

The current schedule was designed for two 124-car Issaquah class ferries. That worked just fine until the 144-car Tokitae was added to the route in June 2014. A larger ferry takes longer to load and unload. So on-time performance has slipped.

The proposed schedule — which will start in June as a six-month pilot project — adjusts afternoon sailing times to accommodate heavy vehicle traffic and allow more time for loading and unloading.

No service cuts are planned; the schedule includes the same number of daily sailings.

Another large ferry

Along with helping with current performance issues, the work could help prepare for the future of the route.

A new $134.7 million Mukilteo ferry terminal is expected to open in 2019. Around the same time, a second 144-car ferry, the Suquamish, will be added to the route to help with the summer rush.

“When both those things are in place, we’ll take a look at it again and evaluate what will work best for the future of that route,” said Hadley Rodero, a spokeswoman.

The current Mukilteo terminal is more than 60 years old. The new terminal will include more modern features, such as overhead pedestrian loading, that make loading and unloading more efficient as well as safer. Heavy equipment should appear by fall to start preparing the site. Major construction activity is expected to start in January 2018.

The Suquamish is under construction at a Seattle shipyard. When complete, the ferry will run on the Mukilteo-Clinton route from mid-May to mid-October, when ferry travel is at its peak. The rest of the year, it is expected to serve as a maintenance relief boat for both the Super-class and other Olympic-class ferries.

Busy route

The Mukilteo-Clinton route carries the most vehicles of any route in the system — more than 2.2 million in 2016. The route also is served by the 124-car Issaquah class Kittitas.

On-time performance before the Tokitae was added was clipping along at 99 percent. After the ferry’s addition, that slipped to 97 percent for the year, and 92 percent during the summer. In 2016, the route was on time for 95 percent of its sailings overall and for 9 of 10 sailings during the summer peak, according to numbers shared with The Herald by Washington State Ferries.

In general, more people are riding ferries.

Ridership topped 24.2 million commuters, tourists and travelers aboard Washington State Ferries in 2016, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. That’s up about 2 percent over 2015. Most of the added passengers were walk-ons.

State ferries completed 162,327 trips, and traveled 910,610 miles in 2016 — enough to circumnavigate the earth 36 times.

Olympic-class ferries are the fourth-largest vessels in the state’s fleet. The Suquamish will be the fourth such vessel in the fleet.

A year after the Tokitae, the Samish was added in 2015 to the Anacortes-San Juan Islands route.

The third Olympic-class ferry, the Chimacum, is expected to join the Seattle-Bremerton route this spring following sea trials. That route has the highest ridership in the ferry system.

Melissa Slager: streetsmarts@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3432.

Comment on schedule

Washington State Ferries plans a six-month test of a summer schedule meant to better accommodate larger ferries on the Mukilteo-Clinton route. Public comment will be taken until April 5.

In person: A drop-in open house about the proposed changes is set for 5:30-7:30 p.m. March 21 at Clinton Community Hall, 6411 S. Central Ave.

Online: More information and a link to an online comment form is at http://tinyurl.com/zgv4r78.

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