Ferries pledge waterfront trail link at terminal

The new design will include a path to Waterfront Park, officials vow.

Washington State Ferries has long balked at plans to include a Waterfront Park trail link in a multimillion-dollar upgrade slated for the Winslow terminal.

But WSF reversed that position at a public meeting Tuesday, promising to connect the terminal to a path south of Harborview Drive.

“You will see a trail connection to the terminal,” said Russ East, WSF’s director of terminal engineering. “I will commit to that today.”

East was one of five top-level WSF officials, including executive director Mike Anderson, who discussed the long- and short-term plans for the system’s ferries, terminals, ticketing procedures and customer service.

East cautioned that the proposed trail connection would likely not happen during the initial stages of the $160 million terminal upgrade.

“The terminal is not built for it today, and it won’t happen during the dock-widening stage,” but it will happen before WSF completes the project in 2017, he said.

Charles Schmid, a member of the Waterfont Trail Committee, welcomed East’s pledge, but expressed skepticism.

“It’d be nice to see it in writing,” he said. “Anybody can say they’re going to do nice things. I look forward to seeing an actual date, written down, for when they’ll do that.”

While a trail link was included in the terminal’s 1999 master plan, WSF cited growing security pressures and concerns that scuttled the idea last year.

Schmid and many foot and pedal-powered commuters have long called for a direct trail link on Olympic Drive’s west side.

They say the tight mix of automobiles, pedestrians, buses and bicyclists scrambling around the terminal is unsafe and improvements are long overdue.

East said WSF will revisit the terminal’s master plan through public workshops and meetings on the island, starting in the fall. Along with $160 million earmarked for the terminal, the state has committed almost $39 million to upgrade the ferry maintenance yard on Eagle Harbor.

“It’s a tremendous amount of money,” East said. “We’re not likely to see this kind of investment in our lifetimes. We’ve only got one chance to do this and we want to do it right.”

While island residents’ input is vital in the planning process, East said the terminal must also meet the needs of regional users.

“It’s not going to be perfect for everybody,” he said. “There are also taxpayers in the county” that depend on the island’s ferry link.

While the project won’t be complete for another 12 years, and the maintenance yard won’t see its new warehouse until 2009, WSF has other significant changes in store for the near future.

Chief among them is a new electronic fare collection system set to go into full effect this fall. WSF plans to have turnstiles and electronic ticket kiosks up and running by early August. Discounted paper tickets will be replaced with barcoded scan cards and many passes will be available online.

Thom Opheim, WSF’s electronic fare collection program manager, said the current 10-year-old ticketing system is outdated and slow. He said the planned upgrades will speed the fare collection process, cut costs and reduce dependence on live interaction with WSF staff.

Some of the 35 residents who attended the meeting questioned the need for turnstiles.

“Could we have a slow lane?” asked one woman. “I have two replaced knees and don’t want to be caught in front of an 18-year-old boy with sneakers who’s in a hurry.”

Anderson said the new turnstiles will come with a “learning curve” for riders and ferry staff. He promised that staff would closely monitor the system and make adjustments where needed.

“We certainly don’t want to have people angry at us,” he said. “But I think this will make for a nicer feel at (Seattle’s) Colman dock and make for more effective use of the terminal.”

Opheim estimated that almost 1,800 people can pass through the turnstiles in eight minutes. He added that the truly constricted areas line the boarding corridors, which will be addressed as the 50-year-old Seattle dock is revamped with a $450 million infusion.

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