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WSF planning for more walk-ons

As the cross-sound commute gets more crowded, the ferry system will likely send some riders to the roof. But a pea coat and watch cap won’t be necessary.

“They’ll be warm, they’ll be enclosed,” said Ray Deardorf, Washington State Ferries planning director.

WSF released its draft long-range plan this week, detailing proposed changes to services and investments through 2030.

The most significant change for the Bainbridge route includes expanded capacity for walk-on passengers on the Wenatchee and Tacoma ferries that service the island. The two vessels are classified under the Jumbo Mark II class, currently the largest in WSF’s fleet.

WSF plans would see the addition of a walled corridor between the enclosed, roof-top solariums and the open-air shelters before 2019. The top-side expansion would give each vessel about 400 additional seats, Deardorf said.

According to WSF, counties served by the ferry system are expected to grow by 40 to 60 percent in the next 25 years. At the same time, employment is likely to grow at a slower rate.

“This is particularly true in Kitsap County,” said WSF planner Hadley Greene. “As a result, many citizens will need to use the ferry to commute to work on the east side of the sound.”

WSF expects overall ridership to increase by almost 70 percent by 2030. Vehicle traffic is forecasted to grow substantially slower, at just under 40 percent in the next 24 years.

WSF’s ridership projections are based on a computer model developed by the Puget Sound Regional Council and population data supplied by the state’s Office of Financial Management. Information gathered on rider habits, land-based transportation preferences, ferry fares and vessel capacities were also included in the projections.

“Ridership has been in a slow decline, but the traffic’s showing that it’s flattening out,” said Deardorf. “But population and employment forecasts show an increase” over the next two decades.

WSF may expand top-side seating earlier than 2019, depending on increased traffic on the Bainbridge route.

The island’s terminal improvements, which include expanded loading areas and a new main building, will parallel the long-range plan in accordance with WSF’s 10-year capital investment program already under way.

WSF’s long-range plan includes a number of capacity expansions on other routes, including new vessels for Bremerton and Kingston; a remodeled terminal at Colman Dock in Seattle; and a passenger-only route between Kingston and Seattle.

***Washington State Ferries will hold two public meetings on the island this week to discuss plans for the Bainbridge terminal and the ferry system’s long-range plan.

On April 13, WSF officials will present their draft long-range plan at the Commons on Brien Drive. The meeting runs from 6:30 to 8 p.m. On April 15, WSF invites island residents to discuss the Bainbridge Island Ferry Terminal improvement project at the BHS commons. The meeting runs from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. More information is available at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/projects/bainbridgetermainalMPU/

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