The reality of ferry traffic

By Kevin Stoltz, Mukilteo City Councilmember | Mar 14, 2012

If only we could get the ferry traffic off the Speedway, wouldn't life be great in Mukilteo?

How many times have you heard this? Ferry traffic is the reason people don’t come to Mukilteo’s waterfront area. Ferry commuters just pass through Mukilteo and provide no benefit to our local economy. We need an alternate ferry access road to get ferry traffic off the Speedway.

None of this is true. The belief held by many in Mukilteo that ferry traffic is our big problem simply isn’t supported by the data. However, this belief has become so powerful it has become a culture in Mukilteo. Truly a “perception is reality” argument.

The Mukilteo City Council predictably voted 5-2 to support the Elliott Point 1 option that moves the ferry to the far end of the tank farm and in doing so builds a 4-lane road the entire length of the waterfront and destroys the Art Building, which is the home of the world -renowned Mongrain Glass Studio and four other Mukilteo businesses.

In exchange, Mukilteo gets overflow ferry holding traffic off the Speedway which seems to be a good deal to the majority of Mukilteo officials who apparently believe the additional $100 million is worth the 2-3 times a year the overflow holding extends up the Speedway.

In 1995, the city of Mukilteo adopted the Mukilteo Multimodal Study, which indicated the preferred location of the new ferry terminal would be the mid-location of the tank farm.

Much has changed since then but, at the time, WSF planners were predicting a 40 percent increase in ferry ridership within the next 15 years. Fifteen years later (2010) the future has arrived and the data shows an actual 1 percent decrease in ridership of the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry route.

In 1995, there were 4,190,358 total riders on the ferry, 2,260,235 vehicles and 1,930,123 passengers. In 2011 there were 4,155,578 total riders on the ferry, 2,068,695 vehicles and 2,086,883 passengers.

So over the past 16 years, total ridership has decreased slightly by 1 percent. That’s a pretty big departure from the 40 percent increase predicted in 1995.

What’s really interesting is the number of vehicles on the ferry has decreased by 8 percent over the past 16 years while the number of passengers has increased by about 8 percent.

This means more people are carpooling and/or walking on the ferry. That’s exactly what we want!

And while the WSF draft Environmental Impact Statement forecasts a 73 percent increase in mostly passenger traffic by 2030, pedestrian concerns are really getting no consideration in the draft EIS.

The SR-525 Bridge with its substandard 41-inch sidewalks will get no improvements. The “preferred” Elliott Point 1 option shows the pedestrian route is along Mukilteo Lane and crossing the Mt. Baker RR crossing.

This route has no sidewalks planned or even sufficient right-of-way for sidewalks, meaning the acceptable plan seems to be for pedestrians to access the new terminal from the downtown area by walking on the street (which is also a substandard width, even for vehicles).

Mukilteo’s comment letter doesn’t even address this oversight (and, yes, the issue has been raised more than once).

Recently, after the ferry draft EIS meeting at Rosehill, the mayor stated that if the ferry stayed at its current location he would still fight for an alternate access road down a gulch because of the traffic problems.

We already know ferry traffic has decreased by 8 percent over the past 16 years. But let’s get real with the traffic issues in Mukilteo, shall we?

According to WSDOT’s own SR-525 Average Daily Traffic Volume Data between 1995 and 2010, the reality is the traffic problem is at the opposite end of town, not at the ferry dock intersection.

Starting at the ferry dock and marching up the hill, the ferry dock has seen an 8 percent decrease over the past 15 years, 5th Street has seen a 9 percent decrease, 84th Street has seen a 29 percent decrease (in part due to the opening of Paine Field Boulevard), and the Mukilteo side of Beverly Park Road has seen a 37 percent increase!

So, even though the ability to regulate and control ferry traffic is being used by Mukilteo officials as justification to build a new terminal at the far end of Mukilteo’s waterfront, the reality is ferry traffic isn’t the problem but rather the changes we’ve made in our belief that ferry traffic is the problem. It’s a shell game, it’s Mukilteo, it’s perception that has become our reality.

For more information or to discuss other issues important to you, please join councilmember Steve Schmalz and myself this evening at 7:30-8:30 p.m. in the Rosehill room at the Rosehill Community Center.

The preceding feature is published the second Wednesday of each month for The Beacon and is the opinion of Kevin Stoltz and may or may not represent the views of the Mukilteo City Council.

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