Expect delays: Ferry system bracing for busy holiday travel

Officials prepared to add late evening sailings on Mukilteo-Clinton route Monday, July 3
By Nicholas Johnson | Jun 28, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Washington State Ferries spokesperson Ian Sterling speaks to reporters Wednesday, June 28, in front of the Mukilteo ferry dock.

State ferry officials say the Fourth of July holiday is “our Super Bowl.”

It’s one of the busiest travel times of the year, especially on the Mukilteo-Clinton route, which is the system’s busiest route for vehicle traffic, spokesperson Ian Sterling said.

“We anticipate this route to be one of the hot spots in the system this year,” Sterling said.

That’s because the largest of the route’s two ferries was dry-docked June 12 for three weeks of U.S. Coast Guard-mandated inspection and maintenance. In the meantime, the 144-car Tokitae has been replaced by the 124-car Chelan.

“This was the only time we were able to squeeze the Tokitae in for its inspection to make sure it's available for the rest of the summer,” Amy Scarton, assistant secretary for Washington State Ferries, said.

“Not only is there limited availability for these inspections, but the work must be coordinated with the scheduled maintenance of the other 21 ferries in the fleet.”

System-wide, about 430,000 passengers traveled across the Puget Sound during last year’s Fourth of July weekend, and Sterling said similar numbers are expected this year.

“430,000 passengers over the next few days is nothing to scoff at,” he said. “We moved 24 million passengers system-wide last year, and we’ll likely surpass that this year.”

The Mukilteo-Clinton route transports some 2.2 million vehicles each year, and 4.1 million total riders. With the Tokitae out, the route can handle 20 fewer vehicles per hour, which Sterling said would only add to wait times.

“One of the things we’re doing to help people get across is we’re adding some sailings as needed at night on Monday, July 3,” he said.

Three extra sailings may be added, depending on demand, running as late as 2 a.m. on July 4. The route will be on its Sunday sailing schedule on July 4.

Extra sailings will also be used during the holiday weekend between Vashon Island and Fauntleroy, along with the Anacortes and San Juan Island routes.

With the Fourth of July falling on a Tuesday this year, officials hope that will spread the demand out across the system.

“That said, we do anticipate it will be very busy here,” he said. “We have near record ridership here year after year after year.”

Officials expect Wednesday, July 5, will the busiest day, “because everybody will be coming back to the city at the same time,” Sterling said.

His top travel trip: Don’t travel when everybody else is traveling.

“Just like the highways, if you’re out there at rush hour, you can anticipate that you’re going to be stuck a little longer,” he said.

“It’s the same story with ferries. One trick is to travel early or travel late. Travel at 7 in the morning or 10 at night. Walking across is also a great idea, if that’s a possibility for you. Maybe try to have somebody on the other side who can pick you up. We almost always have walk-on passenger capacity.”

Other tips: check terminal conditions before leaving; find out about changes to Colman Dock due to waterfront construction; sign up for ferry travel alerts; follow WSF's Twitter account for automatic updates on travel conditions; review the summer sailing schedule for best times to travel; and make a vehicle reservation to the San Juan Islands, Sidney, BC or Port Townsend/Coupeville.

The Mukilteo-Clinton route does not take reservations.

Drivers can also plan ahead for increased congestion on highways as they make their way to the ferry terminals with real-time traffic information on the WSDOT traffic app for their mobile device.

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