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Washington State Ferries Plan B was DOA

KINGSTON — The Washington State Ferry administration is not winning any popularity contests with the release of its draft long-range plan.

More than 100 North End residents showed up at the Kingston Community Center Wednesday night to let WSF officials know just how detested the long range plan is for those who depend on the ferries as their "lifeline."

It was WSF's seventh of 10 public meetings scheduled to garnish community input which will be reported to the Legislature by Jan. 31.

The plan, released on Dec. 19 as WSF's possible approach to remedy the system's lack of financial sustainability, consists of two options.

Option A basically maintains existing service levels with a vessel fleet of 22, and introduces the concepts of a reservation system, transit enhancements, and walk on incentives. This plan however, results in a $3.5 billion shortfall over the next 22 years.

Option B is the bare minimum of ferry operation, it would close the Anacortes/Sydney routes, reduce Bremerton service to one boat, eliminate night service on Bremerton and Edmonds routes, among other reductions. This plan results in a $1.4 billion deficit over the next 22 years.

"We don't think either plan adequately addresses the impacts on the community," said Dennis Cziske, a member of Kingston's ferry advisory committee. "People who are ferry-dependent cannot live with Plan B or A. The state has been negligent in not planning for this necessary funding over the years."

Thrown in with the options, financial burdens and possible reduction of services is WSF forecasting a 40 percent spike in ferry ridership by the year 2030. Residents maintain neither plan addresses growth.

They called Plan B a joke, a threat, an amputation of life, ridiculous and like they'd just been told they were grounded. More colorful were the comparisons of Plan A and Plan B: "Plan A is like water-boarding and Plan B is like being tortured on a rack," or "Plan A and B are like puking versus choking."

The attendees' primary bones of contention were with the elimination of night service from the Kingston/Edmonds route, the lack of information in either plan, the amount of time local organizations and residents have to respond to the plans, the need for all of the Puget Sound's public transit systems to work together, and more or less both options. Plan B, especially, as cited as lethal to the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas' economy and quality of life.

"You're destined to kill us," said Ed Ramay of Hansville. "You're going to kill the economy of Kitsap."

The Olympic National Park brings millions of visitors to the area each year and those tourist-driven dollars spur the areas economy, which would be in jeopardy if the plans come to fruition.

More than 30 took the podium to speak.

"A is a good starting point for conversation, it meets the minimum standard, but the forecast shows we need more so why are we planning for A when we need to go further? There's not enough detail in the plan to show how it affects us," said Paul Lundy, a daily ferry commuter from Kingston. "You should be giving people incentives to get people out of their cars and the transit improvements don't appear to go far enough."

Several referred to the ferry system as a bridge and wondered what would happen if access to the 520 bridge in Kirkland or the I-90 bridge east of Seattle were dramatically reduced? Others said the ferries are a highway system and question how much state funding goes to plow the passes in the winter and why some of those dollars can't be spent on routine maintenance of the Sound's "highway."

The attendees also came with an armory of suggestions: perhaps large haul trucks and semis should travel at night to free up more room during peak rider times, build a bridge across the sound in addition to Plan A, possibly do away with some of the amenities on the ferries like the restaurants, bidding out the construction of the ferries to companies outside of Washington to save money, a 2 percent gas tax to help fund the ferries, remind the Legislature Initiative 695 was declared unconstitutional and ask for the funding and get all the transit systems to work together.

WSF Director David Mosely and Planning Director Ray Deardorf wrote down citizen comments and suggestions the entire meeting.

Mosely said the meeting was just the beginning of the debate and not the end, and every morning he reviews his notes so the suggestions, ideas and themes are fresh in his mind.

"After this we'll look at the plan, make the changes we think are necessary and submit it to the Legislature," Mosely said.

The public comment period is open until Jan. 21. Suggestions or comments can be e-mailed directly to Mosely at moseled@wsdot.wa.gov.

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