Opinion

Reader Sound-Off: Has the ferries system outlived its usefulness?

It seems like just yesterday when I first began asking local politicians why they hadn’t built bridges instead of continuing to rely on these incredibly slow, costly, inefficient ferries.

The usual response was an embarrassed look — and silence.

But it wasn’t yesterday. It was 2000, a full year before Sept. 11, and I quickly discovered I was a newcomer to this subject.

Many Kitsap old-timers had been screaming for action for many decades, and had been steadfastly ignored by their elected officials.

So I was surprised to read lately about one more summit meeting, hosted by our inept — many say illegal — policy-making body, the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council, or KRCC.

Ambitiously called the “Puget Sound Leadership Ferry Summit,” the meeting, held in Bremerton’s Norm Dicks Center, on Dec. 7, went largely unnoticed by the long-suffering ferry riders, who ought to have been there in droves. But the KRCC members don’t usually think much of public input. They have their own ways of doing things — they know best, and don’t want to be bothered with facts.

Were they interested in the facts, they would have called upon the members of the “Old Boys’ Bridge Club,” which has nothing to do with card playing, and everything to do with ridding us of these ferries.

I have known these men for several years and have come to respect and admire their knowledge and determination.

Much of their motivation derives from the “1992 Cross-Sound Transportation Study,” compiled for the Washington State Transportation Commission by Booz-Allen & Hamilton, a consulting firm specializing in large projects of that nature.

The 1992 study examined several options for handling the expected increases in cross-Sound traffic. There was a clear indication that solutions involving fixed bridges or tunnels linking Kitsap-Vashon-West Seattle and Kitsap-Bainbridge-Seattle would be highly effective in cutting annual operating costs, reducing transit times and greatly improving the reliability and safety of the passages.

Driving your own car across to Seattle in 10 minutes beats a 50-minute ferry trip any day, and the estimated toll costs of such a trip would be far, far less than the exorbitant cost of car and passengers on the ferries.

The group, of which I have been a member for many years, did considerable research into a new “Submerged Floating Tunnel” (SFT) concept being developed in Norway. The SFT consists of twin cylindrical tubes, each capable of carrying two or three lanes of traffic, which would be suspended about 100 feet below the surface of the Sound, thus avoiding any interference with surface vessel traffic, and anchored securely to the bottom.

The Old Boys’ Bridge Club has long been advocating a West Sound Connection concept, aimed at eliminating the ever-increasing gridlock on State Route 305 from Poulsbo to the Winslow ferry terminal. It involved building a new terminal at Blakely Harbor, connecting it via a new highway to a bridge between Bainbridge Island and Central Kitsap, with easy access to Bremerton and Port Orchard, and to Silverdale via SR 303.

A result of the new Cross-Sound link would be the total elimination of the time-consuming Bremerton-Seattle run, which would have made Mayor Cary Bozeman’s extremely costly “Little Dig” tunnel unnecessary.

The trip from Blakely to Seattle would take just 25 minutes, and the ghastly traffic snarls across the north end of the county would be virtually eliminated. Also eliminated would be the necessity of using the rickety bridge across the Agate Pass, which ought to be replaced.

While I don’t want to raise unnecessary fears among ferry riders, I feel it is necessary to bring up a couple of points regarding safety on these huge ferries. I’m sure you all read about the two suspected Islamic terrorists who were caught taking photos of the machinery and structure of one of our ferries last summer. And the presence of Coast Guard boats zipping about as they ride along with the ferries confirms the elevated danger from waterborne threats.

Apart from the elevated terrorist danger, there is the ever-present danger of a shipboard emergency on these aging boats, necessitating an evacuation midway across the Sound. Forget about jumping into a lifeboat. They might have enough life jackets for you, but hypothermia would become a killer in those chilly waters after five to 10 minutes.

Anyone thinking all passengers could be rescued in less than 10 minutes deserves the golden prize for optimism.

The looming question you may be voicing is: did this summit meeting hear these kinds of citizen inputs? No, of course they didn’t, because the public wasn’t invited. Perhaps if and when they do ask for public input, you will take a copy of this column with you and make these complaints heard.

You want WSDOT running something as costly and potentially dangerous as the state ferry system? I don’t. I doubt that you do, either.

So why are you allowing it to happen?

BILL BAMBRICK

Port Orchard

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