Farewell, ferries -- let's build some bridges

Opinion by Bill Bambrick
The Bremerton Sun

July 9, 2003

Whenever two friendly populated areas are separated by a large body of water, it seems natural that they would wish to get from one side to the other easily. Western Washingtonians have been studying that problem since the early 1900s. But so far, all they've done is run a fleet of slow, expensive and frequently unreliable ferries back and forth across Puget Sound. And with current worries over terrorism, continuation of that mode of crossing will become even slower as the government attempts to initiate pre-boarding inspections.
Our state looked at these problems back in 1992 when we paid consultants Booz-Allen & Hamilton Inc. $1.4 million to study our cross-Sound transportation problems. Their favored recommendation was to cross the Sound with a suspension bridge between Burien and Vashon Island, with a shorter bridge across Colvos Passage to complete the link.

A year later the Legislature passed the Public-Private Initiative Act, which allowed the private sector to develop such major projects for the public, to be paid for through tolls.

These two breakthroughs should have been sufficient to solve our cross-Sound transportation problems. Marginally, they did, for the PPI Act resulted in the new Tacoma Narrows bridge, although it was eventually changed to a public project, resulting in high costs to the Kitsap taxpayers -- costs that have now increased to nearly $1 billion.

No one has bothered with the problem until recently, when a group of Kitsap residents called the Cross Sound Transportation Coalition, or CSTC, got together to try to resurrect the 1992 study and implement some of its recommendations.

The Vashon crossing is one where a new concept involving the submerged floating tunnel, or SFT, could be used with advantage. I've talked about this Norwegian development before. It would consist of six parallel tubes of concrete and steel suspended about 100 feet below the surface, anchored to each shore and to the bottom to prevent tidal movement.

The advantages would be numerous. Instead of an hour or more crossing time, we would whisk across in under 10 minutes. It would cost the state nothing: it would be paid for by tolls -- about $6-$8 each way, which is a small fraction of the ever-escalating ferry car fares.

The SFT would connect the western terminus of Highway 518 in Burien to the Kitsap Peninsula via a capped arterial crossing Vashon Island, thence across Colvos Passage by way of a conventional suspension bridge.

The advantages of this solution to business activities on both sides would be immediate. For the eastern side, it would provide a connector into the Port of Seattle's Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and the Seattle and Tacoma shipping terminals. Trucks hauling goods to and from those locations currently have to transit via the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which costs dearly in fuel and, more important, time. The tunnel would cut both costs substantially. At our end of the crossing it would connect, via Mullenix Road and Highway 3, north into the Bremerton National Airport and business park, and south to Shelton and, via Highway 12, to Aberdeen and Grays Harbor, which is already a vital port of interest to the Port of Bremerton.

Other features of the transportation plan include a new bridge from Illahee to Bainbridge, to ease the strain on Highway 305, and a bridge across Sinclair Inlet, bypassing the Gorst nightmare.

Randy Boss of Gig Harbor, a member of the CSTC, has been presenting these ideas to a host of state and local groups, including Port Orchard's Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, the Port of Bremerton commissioners, the Home Builders Association of Kitsap County, the Washington State Good Roads and Transportation Association in Olympia and several key state transportation officials, including Mike Thorne, manager of the state ferry system.

Nearly everywhere he has presented his picture of the North Sound Crossing, it has been received enthusiastically. The general reaction was "Why haven't we thought about doing this before now? Why can't we start building this connector immediately?"

Boss plans to talk next to the Kitsap County commissioners and to concerned residents on Vashon Island, who, understandably, are concerned about a new highway crossing their island retreat. Boss plans to point out similar concerns the Mercer Islanders had before the construction of I-90 across their island, which was satisfactorily mitigated by capping it in sensitive areas.

All we can say is: Go for it, Randy.


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