A while ago, I wrote about the Port of Port Townsend’s attempt to use a federal grant to start a financially self-sustaining foot ferry service between Port Townsend and Seattle. Sadly, the effort has come to naught, as the PT Leader reports:
During the commission’s Nov. 13 meeting, Executive Director Larry Crockett recommended that the $1.3 million Federal Transit Authority grant, awarded in 2010, be returned in its entirety. The money could have only been spent on a passenger-only ferry (POF), a project which Crockett has said is not supported by rider interest in Jefferson County.
“I’ve come to the conclusion we’re so small as a community,” Crockett said, adding the population figures for the City of Port Townsend barely qualifies it as a city compared to some metropolitan areas.
“This is not the right time for a passenger ferry,” he said. “I think this was a concept that needed to be explored, I think the port manned up and did that to best of our ability.”
Essentially, the federal grant would not have provided enough money to build a small but comfortable passenger ferry suitable for this crossing, and no such boats were readily available for purchase or lease. The only remaining option, transferring the currently-unused Spirit of Kingston commuter ferry from the Port of Kingston, was deemed not viable, as that boat would be far too large and costly to operate without very significant ongoing subsidy. The Port was also unable to identify local funds required to match the federal grant.
This ferry link could have made Port Townsend much more accessible to Seattlites, especially those without cars, and it’s disappointing to see it fall through. Still, it seems like the Port made the right call here: I’d rather public agencies take calculated risks with a solid chance of success, rather than roll the dice on high-risk projects which seem quite likely to end in spectacular failure. I hope the idea doesn’t die completely, as I suspect that in some form, this ferry link (possibly seasonal) could be viable with minimal subsidy, and would be a real asset to the communities it connected.
There is a silver lining, as mentioned by the Leader and discussed in more depth by KPLU: King County Ferry District may be able to acquire the Spirit of Kingston for free, to be used as a spare on the West Seattle and Vashon water taxi routes, making them much less subject to cancellation when Rachel Marie or Melissa Ann are out of service.