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Kingston ferry traffic is ‘an absolute nightmare’

Kingston residents and business owners are frustrated by the Kingston/Edmonds ferry backups which are known to extend three miles, sometimes stretching to Wolfle Elementary. - Kelly Joines/Staff Photo
Kingston residents and business owners are frustrated by the Kingston/Edmonds ferry backups which are known to extend three miles, sometimes stretching to Wolfle Elementary.
— image credit: Kelly Joines/Staff Photo

KINGSTON — Apparently, Kingston has a ferry traffic problem.

Commuters, downtown business owners and Washington State Ferry (WSF) workers agree during morning commute hours and peak weekend travel times Kingston/Edmonds ferry backups are fierce. As history often repeats itself, with the onset of summertime, ferry waits are expected to once again be long, mutinous hours as ferry workers struggle to fit as many cars onboard as possible.

“Even this morning we were overloading,” said Diane Vaughan, working for WSF as a cashier at the Kingston terminal Thursday morning.

Vaughan said in her three years working for WSF, there have been numerous times when traffic was so backed up workers had to route cars to Bainbridge Island so they could make it home before the last ferry sailed.

“If we know they won’t make our last run because our boats are already full, we give them directions and a sailing schedule and tell them they need to try Bainbridge,” she said.

Kent Kolstad, a sales representative for Poulsbo’s Hill Moving Services, was among the Thursday morning commuters and is no novice to the traffic pile-ups. They are the reason he tries to avoid the Kingston/Edmonds route at all cost.

“At night it’s an absolute nightmare. I never take this ferry because I know I can get on at Bainbridge. It has more room and boats more often. I just came up here because I have to go to Edmonds today. I can’t get out of it.”

While the Kingston route can shuttle about 180 vehicles, the Bainbridge Island boats can accommodate more than 200, according to the WSF Web site.

Kolstad said Hill Moving trucks have to take the Kingston/Edmonds route all the time — something the workers abhor because they often have to sit idle for hours.

“It’s intense,” said Hansville resident and WSF Supervisor Renee Myers, who has worked for WSF and seen the traffic issues play out each summer for 29 years.

“It’s a safety hazard out there,” she said, adding the backups can extend all the way to Wolfle Elementary, which is about three miles from the terminal. While people wait, they get out of their cars to stretch and walk around but traffic continues right next to the holding lane at highway speeds, she said.

“So, is it a problem? It has always has been a problem. Yes. It’s been looked at for so many years.”

So many years in fact those residents who have lived here most of their lives say it’s just something you come to expect and ignore.

“You just sort of live with it,” said Glea Branstetter, while sipping coffee at Drifters Sports Bar and Grill on Kingston’s main drag. Branstetter has lived in Kingston since 1985.

Her friend, Louise Love, a life-long Kingston resident, said if it weren’t for the traffic lights, they would never be able to cross the street to do their grocery shopping because of the ferry traffic.

“It’s constant, always running,” she said.

Even pedestrians and business owners tackle the problem.

“It makes it difficult for customers to get down here,” said Quilter’s Cove co-owner Jacque Noard. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to cross the street with a baseball bat. They (drivers) don’t even look. They are just bent on making that ferry.”

Although Washington State Patrol does try to route traffic in the holding lane, Noard said it doesn’t do much for the downtown area.

“People can’t even get through to the local lanes to shop downtown,” she said. “If I know I have to work on a Sunday I can’t even expect to be able to open my store on time.”

WSF personnel continue to say they recognize the imbalance of supply and demand that is resulting in peak periods, unhappy commuters and the impacted surrounding communities.

“WSF and DOT are both responsible for that problem, its a collaborative effort that’s needed,” said Walt Elliott, chair of the Kingston Ferry Advisory Committee.

To tackle these issues WSF is looking into options and asks local residents for their input from 6:30 to 9 p.m. June 24 at the Kingston Cove Yacht Club.

Two of the major components are pricing and a nominated reservation system, which would guarantee placement on a boat even when there is a lot of traffic, said Elliott.

“We know the commuters are worried about the schedules and price of tickets,” he said. “There is going to be an awful lot of change in the ferry system and this will be an opportunity for people interested to see what they are planning and provide comments. This is the most effective time because it’s early in the process.”

To see more information on WSF plans visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/planning/ESHB2358.htm and scroll to the June/July 2008 public workshops.

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