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Kingston traffic jams a byproduct of I-5 construction work

KINGSTON — Though the Interstate 5 construction and closure has not caused epic traffic jams in the Seattle area, it is being labeled as the main reason Kingston ferry traffic has backed up through town in the last couple of weeks.

Washington State Ferries and Washington State Patrol officials are saying they are doing the best they can under the circumstances, and the traffic snarls should ease as school begins and road construction ceases. This news could not be more welcome to downtown Kingston business owners, who have been gritting their teeth each time the line of vehicles grows.

“Before people realized how bad it was, they were struggling to get down here,” said Kingston Quilt Shop co-owner Connie Simila. “As a couple of weeks went on, that’s been really bad, our regular customers don’t come down here any more. We’ve considered closing on Sundays, though no decisions have been made yet. That’s a drastic measure.”

Sacks Feed and Garden owner David Hildebrand said his customers have had trouble getting in and out of the small parking lot at his State Route 104 store. Pulling into traffic can be hazardous, and he said his customers are regularly honked at by drivers who are in line for the ferry.

This sentiment has been echoed through town as cars line up each afternoon for the ferries. Many have said it’s because the 188 car MV Walla Walla replaced the 202 capacity MV Puyallup, which was transferred to the Bainbridge Island/Seattle run to replace one of its jumbo ferries. But WSF Communications Manager Joy Goldenberg said that’s not the case, 14 cars doesn’t make a huge difference and wouldn’t cause such large backups.

“We’re keeping two jumbos on the run, it doesn’t matter what size they are,” she said. “A lot of the delays on the Kingston/Edmonds run are a mixture of tourists and the I-5 construction.”

She said in addition the Port Townsend/Keystone run has been unreliable recently, which is causing more traffic to switch to the Kingston route.

Business owners, along with residents, have also expressed frustration about the Washington State Patrol, which can set up a tally system to clear the downtown area and hold overflow traffic along the SR 104 shoulder. WSP Sergeant Neil Schuster, who makes the judgement call when to enact the tally system, said it hasn’t been necessary because the traffic clears out once a ferry arrives at the dock.

“Every time we’ve gotten a call, traffic has cleared up when the boat gets in,” Schuster said. “Traffic mitigates itself to a degree. I can’t say we go up there everytime someone calls, it depends on the personnel available.”

He said the traffic should die down after Labor Day weekend, which is the last time for traveling before school resumes. Troopers are expecting the backups to greatly decrease, and the tally system will go into hibernation until next summer.

In the meantime, business owners should continue contacting the WSP when a buildup begins, and residents are encouraged to take alternate routes if there is heavy traffic.

“Historically, we just do it on Sundays, which is our busiest day during the summer,” Schuster said of the tally system. “But recently we did do it last Thursday and Friday, which was an anomaly because of the I-5 construction. We do do it when traffic backs up.”

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