There are three ways to drive or bike off the North Olympic Peninsula the Port Townsend-Keystone ferry, the Hood Canal bridge, which connects to other ferries and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, or along U.S. Highway 101 south through Olympia.
Many residents and business owners have had mounting concerns regarding cross-sound transportation with the Port Townsend ferries being taken off line for several months and a slated Hood Canal bridge closure. If both were down, only U.S. Highway 101 would be available to take drivers off the peninsula.
But Gov. Christine Gregoire removed any mystery as to the future of the Port Townsend ferry in an April 28 announcement. She said the state Department of Transportation will move forward with funding construction of two 64-car Island Home-style ferries for the route. The original Island Home Ferry runs in Massachusetts.
DOTs initial plans were to construct smaller 50-car ferries, similar to the Steilacoom II that has temporarily replaced the Steel Electric ferries that were pulled from the run last fall due to rusted hulls.
The Steilacoom II will go back to its home in Pierce County in September and will be replaced temporarily with another of the countys ferries, its sister ship the Christine Anderson. The new 50-car ferry will run until it is replaced with the 64-car ferry in spring 2010.
I am very pleased at this agreement, Gregoire said. Earlier (in April) I was in Port Townsend and heard from citizens on both ends of the route who made it c lear that they preferred larger boats.
There have been problems with the smaller boat crossing the state ferry systems most choppy route with rider complaints and rogue waves.
With plans in place for the Port Townsend ferry, North Peninsula residents will maintain two ways to commute across the sound when the Hood Canal bridge closes for six weeks from May to June in 2009, through Port Townsend and Olympia.
Plus, with gas prices likely to hit $4 per gallon this year, the set plan for the ferry route will save drivers money.
The distance from Sequim to Seattles Pike Place Market using the Port Townsend ferry is 95 miles. The distance when driving around is 164 miles.
This is great news for the residents who rely on these ferries to get to their jobs, doctor appointments and other necessary meetings, Rep. Lynn Kessler, D-Hoquiam, said. This is also welcome news for our businesses in Port Townsend and across the peninsula.
Have a plan
DOT representatives suggest all residents on the peninsula have a plan for travel when the Hood Canal bridge closes for renovation and expansion.
The Hood Canal bridge connects the peninsula to three ferries that head toward the Seattle area as well as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. Its closure will make it difficult to reach those lanes of travel.
This summer, the DOT will make appearances at peninsula events, advertising the pending bridge closure and discussing alternative means to leave the peninsula.
Closure mitigation plans include public transit expansion, a walk-on water shuttle that would run parallel to the bridge, ride-sharing opportunities and a medical bus that could transport peninsula residents going to Seattle for medical appointments.
The Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce may try to enhance the flow of North Peninsula visitors likely to come across the Port Townsend ferry due to the bridges closure while in turn increasing the opportunities for residents to get off the peninsula.
Chamber leadership has offered $100,000 toward creating a passenger or vehicle ferry to the Seattle or Edmonds area. Although nothing is set in stone, chamber director Tim Caldwell has been negotiating with different stakeholders, weighing options and trying to come up with a solid plan.
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