Fast Kitsap ferry should be template for smart regional growth

Source: The Seattle Times

Posted: July 12, 2017 at 2:42 pm

The return of fast passenger-only ferries between Seattle and Kitsap County opens up new options for residents, business and local governments.

RESUMING passenger ferry service across Puget Sound is a welcome development in a region undergoing tremendous growth.

Seattle area residents should be grateful to their neighbors in Kitsap County, who are paying for the service with a 0.3 percent sales tax.

Service officially began Monday with 30-minute sailings between downtown Seattle and Bremerton. Service between Seattle and Kingston and Southworth is expected to begin over the next three years.

Fast, frequent and reliable transportation across the Sound should be a cornerstone of the region’s growth strategy.

At the same time, there needs to be a more coordinated approach to funding and operating these services. The proliferation of transit bureaucracies — and their efforts to skew transportation policy and investments to benefit their fiefdoms — is a serious concern.

Cities and counties should also better coordinate their response to growth challenges such as housing affordability now that they’re being woven together into a metropolis linked by multiple transportation services.

Seattle in particular should recalibrate its growth policies to reflect the availability of affordable homes within a 30-minute trip from downtown.

The new ferry is a shorter commute trip from downtown to Bremerton, where houses are available for $200,000, than the bus from north Ballard, where a townhome may cost $800,000.

Regional perspective is critical. Seattle cannot build its way to affordability without irreparably harming livability and the character of neighborhoods that are its greatest strength.

A better path forward is to acknowledge that people, employers and the housing market have a more expansive view of “Greater Seattle” and aren’t narrowly focused within the limits of any city or county.

Seattle must also support increased passenger and vehicle traffic at the downtown ferry terminal. Despite pressures to make the area more parklike, it will continue to be the busiest interchange of our essential marine-highway system.

A 30-minute ferry can be a game-changer, as shown by Bainbridge Island’s evolution into somewhat of a bedroom community for downtown Seattle.

It remains to be seen if it will have a similar effect on Bremerton, Kingston and Southworth. Kitsap County has recently seen an influx of buyers. But its median home price of $297,700 is still less than half that of King County’s $625,000 and Seattle’s $722,250. State passenger service to Bremerton in the 1990s didn’t provide enough certainty to change long-term housing patterns.

Many Kitsap residents are rightly concerned about urbanization — or Seattleization — of their area.

Yet regional growth, emanating from Seattle, is as inevitable as rainfall.

Passenger-only ferries linking communities on both sides of Puget Sound are an opportunity for residents, businesses and local governments to take a more expansive view of their place and the myriad opportunities it presents.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Donna Gordon Blankinship, Brier Dudley, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).