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Getting fast ferries on Seattle's radar

Pondering what the loss of the passenger-only ferry system would mean to Bremerton is no pleasure cruise for Mayor Cary Bozeman.

“We are very fearful of losing passenger-only ferry service,” Bozeman said.

Recent slow-downs and rising fares have curtailed the attractiveness of the fast boats.

Unlike the state’s roads and auto ferries, the passenger ferries are not funded by the gas tax. Rather, they are “funded by the pleasure of the state,” Bozeman said.

With this in mind, and the future of Bremerton’s revitalization projects becoming clear, Bozeman brought his case to Seattle Mayor Greg Nickles on Friday, June 28, via the ferry system. Sen. Betti Sheldon D-23rd, Dick Hayes, executive director of Kitsap Transit and representatives for Sen. Patty Murray and Congressman Norm Dicks joined the city’s leaders in Nickles Seattle office.

“We want to get Seattle leadership to be more cognitive and more aware of the passenger ferry system,” Bozeman said. “It’s just as important to Seattle as it is to Bremerton.”

Referendum 51 may decide the fate of the passenger ferries. Fifty-one proposes raising the gas tax by 9 cents over two years and increasing the sales tax on new and used vehicles by one percent. The additional funding could prove valuable to the passenger ferry service. Bozeman predicts major cuts if referendum 51 fails, and the passenger ferries could be the first to go.

“I am doing everything I can to get it passed, it is critical to the state and the city of Bremerton,” Bozeman said.

It is Bozeman’s belief that passenger ferries can be a key factor in reducing congestion in the densely populated areas of Seattle, and that Bremerton can lure workers to live in Kitsap County.

“Part of our plan is to attract young professionals who commute to Seattle to live in Bremerton,” Bozeman said.

Bozeman expects new waterfront condos and other revitalization projects, including the development of tourism venues like the planned conference center and hotel to bolster the importance of the passenger ferries.

The shores in Rich Passage take a beating from the swells that peel off the boats’ hulls, and a lawsuit over erosion forced them to slow down.

Different boat designs which can deliver passengers in 28-30 minutes with less wake are being considered for the Bremerton-Seattle route.

City officials are working to secure $3 million to develop technology to create vessels to accommodate the run.

The current boats can be used on existing routs where they would not travel through narrow channels, and could operate at higher speeds.

Bozeman would like to see the addition of passenger-only routes throughout the Puget Sound to take advantage of the unique opportunities the area’s waterways offer.

“Passenger ferries are an alternative transportation system who’s time has come,” Bozeman said.

Bozeman plans to continue promoting the passenger ferry system and “upgrading it on the radar screens of the legislature,” but is aware it is a tough task.

“I’m building a coalition of support behind the passenger ferry system ... if Bremerton has to carry the ball then so be it,” he said.

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