Bridge work will sever crucial traffic link
Kitsap residents are not as aware of spring 2007 closure as those in Jefferson and Clallam counties.
If you compared the Olympic region to a heart, the Hood Canal Bridge is like its pulmonary artery.
More than 14,000 people a day travel across the bridge, the Olympic Peninsula's only link to central Puget Sound, unless you count Highway 101, which takes at least an hour longer to snake around the Hood Canal.
The bridge is obviously a vital transportation link. It's also an important link to Kitsap's economy.
Jefferson and Clallam counties estimate people there carry about $10 million a year over the bridge into the Kitsap retail market.
So when the bridge closes in May and June 2007 for reconstruction, the Kitsap economy will likely feel a murmur, said Grant Griffin, head of the Kitsap Peninsula Visitor and Convention Bureau.
"It will have an impact," Griffin said. "The math is significant."
The visitor bureau will help business owners prepare for the impending closure by establishing a committee that will act as a liaison between state Department of Transportation and the local business community.
On Friday, the visitor bureau met with Lloyd Brown, communications manager for the transportation department, to get a rundown of the construction project, how the state will get people across once the bridge goes down and how it will keep people informed.
The $204 million project, which began last fall, is supposed to make the bridge safer and less congested by replacing the aging east end and widening the newer west end.
The closure date was set for 2006, but was set back a year after Native American artifacts were found in a bridge construction graving site in Port Angeles.
While the bridge is closed, there will be several passenger ferries running from South Point on the Olympic Peninsula to Port Gamble on the Kitsap side. Brown said they will depart about every 20 minutes, and the trip across will be about 20 minutes. The boats will run only from peak hours in the morning to peak hours at night, roughly the same time frame as the Kingston car ferry.
There will be park-and-ride lots on each side that can hold 1,500 vehicles. Transit agencies will establish routes from the ferry landings to major destinations.
There will be an appointment-based van pool route set up for those who make the trek from the Olympic Peninsula to Seattle for medical reasons. The transportation department estimates those represent 3 percent of all trips made.
Car ferries were considered, but were ruled out because there weren't appropriate docks and a host of other reasons.
Brown said it's important the visitor bureau help people get informed because a phone survey last year revealed less is known about the closure on the Kitsap side.
"People in Clallam and Jefferson counties are really tuned in. The level of awareness in Kitsap was significantly lower, almost to the point of alarm," he said.
He said that in March 2005 the transportation department will launch an awareness campaign. In the meantime, people can stay updated through the project's official Web site www.hoodcanalbridge.com.
Brown encouraged the visitor bureau to help area businesses understand what impact the closure will have and how to mitigate it.
"The bridge is a key conduit for the Kitsap economy," he said.
Coy Wood, general manager of Howard Johnson in Bremerton, said for him, there are more immediate concerns than a bridge closure that won't happen until 2007. Besides, the bridge is only closed for May and June, which aren't nearly as busy as July and August, he said.
Kevin Wojcik, general manager of Red Lion Silverdale Hotel, said he is concerned for his business because the May closure comes right at the start of the six-month tourist season.
"It's of huge concern. Not just for our hotel but all of Silverdale," Wojcik said. "Now is a good time to start planning."
Reach reporter Niki King at (360) 649-8191 or email@example.com.
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