Currently, the Washington Legislature is working on a long-range plan for Washington State Ferries for the next 25 years.  The state ferry system acts as the primary means for commuters, residents, and commercial traffic to cross Puget Sound from the quarter of the state that comprises the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas to the Greater Seattle area.

One of the current plans includes the building of up to four 64-car capacity vessels and a smaller number of 144-vehicle craft.  For some shortsighted reasons, we need at least two shallower vessels to serve the growing Port Townsend to Keystone run.  But the Puget Sound area has been experiencing wild growth for decades.  To believe that the current service levels will be sufficient for the next 25 years is folly.  We don’t really have enough capacity now.  We need ferries that carry 100 of more cars per trip, and we need them soon.  We are, unfortunately, destined to make the same mistakes of our past over and over again.

In the last 25 years, the Puget Sound region has doubled in size.  25 years ago, I took Greyhound to get from get from Seattle to Tacoma.  Now there are enough local bus routes that a ride will be available every 15 minutes all day.  The end of the world was in Redmond and Issaquah 30 years ago.  Now the urban landscape continues on for many more miles.  25 years ago, Seattle was a much smaller place. Now, its “suburbs” extend beyond Everett and Tacoma, and into the foothills of the Cascades. Even West of Puget Sound, there was no such place as Silverdale 30 years ago, and Kitsap County as a whole was a much less populated place. There are now people commuting into Seattle daily from as far as Jefferson and Clallam Counties.  There has been great growth and expansion of the Puget Sound city in the last 30 years.  There will be much more in the next 30 years.  We need to plan for it now.

Even if somehow, someway it made sense to have a fleet of 64-car vessels, we (our government) are planning now not for next year but for our needs for the next 25 years. Certainly, the plans that have been considered to date have no resemblance to the rate of growth in our region for the next 25 years.

To think that our state highway system will ever get by without significant additions to it’s ferry fleet, or without larger vessels, is pure folly.  This is the same thinking that is just now getting us around to building a new Sound Link light rail system.  A system that will be swamped to capacity from the day will be completed.

Yes, Virginia, we need more ferries, and we need a fleet of mostly 144’s. Or bigger.

And, frankly, we need to stop thinking that we can restrict growth, it better our lifestyles, or increase or inhibit tourism simply by restricting the size of of the ferries to Port Townsend. It doesn’t work that way.  We need to dredge Keystone Harbor for our future needs.  But I will leave that rant for another day.

Down South here in Portland/Vancouver, we are running into a similar situation as Port Townsend by trying to replace the last drawbridge on an Interstate highway in the US with something a bit more modern than the current 6-lane 92-year-old span. For future growth, we probably need the widest bridge that they can conjure up (like a proposal for a 12-lane bridge with light rail access). One group of folks, though, is advocating for only an 8-lane bridge, saying that something more will just encourage more unchecked growth. Yeah, right.

Whether it be bridges or ferries, we gain nothing by trying to artificially limit the size of the bridge or the size of the ferry. We will not stop the need for more capacity by just wishing it away.

Yeah, maybe a coupe of 64’s will be useful. In the same sort of way that the Hiyu has been useful. But it is time to stock up on vessels that really meet our needs.

I also suppose that, for the most part, I’m just preaching to the choir here anyway, though. 😀