Bremerton chamber: We support the tunnel

The Bremerton Area Chamber of Commerce has given the nod to the city’s plan to fix the traffic problem downtown. More specifically, in a mass e-mail from the chamber, it has come out to support “the concept of a tunnel that would provide a quick, nondisruptive outlet for cars leaving the ferries.”

The vote of support came from the chamber’s board of directors on Dec. 19.

The board of directors listened to presentations by Louis Soriano and Lou Weir, who representing Citizens Against The Tunnel (CATT) and by the city’s Economic Development Director Gary Sexton.

CATT is a grass-roots organization that consists of downtown property owners. The group has paid for mass mailings to Bremerton citizens urging that citizens be allowed to vote on the Bremerton Access Improvement Project.

The project entails building an underground tunnel from the Washington State Ferry station on First Street to Burwell Street. The city argues that the tunnel is necessary to alleviate the traffic jam brought on when the ferries offload. In traffic surveys conducted by the city, an estimated 200 cars drive off the ferry, down Washington Street and turn on Burwell Street to get to the freeway.

The vision for the city’s future is that the city will be a pedestrian-friendly area to attract both residents and tourists.

The chamber agrees with the concept.

“This was a vote in favor of solving future traffic problems now and creating a pedestrian friendly environment for downtown redevelopment that is already under construction,” said Rich McDonald, president of the Bremerton Chamber. “Within a few years we will have a thriving downtown business district and we want to be able to accommodate motorists and pedestrians living downtown or frequenting local businesses as well as have in place the least disruptive solution for handling the surges of offloading ferry traffic.”

The chamber also supports the city’s opposition of a major expansion at the WSF’s terminal. The terminal currently holds 160 cars, and the WSF wants to expand to 244. The city and the chamber maintain a 200-car holding area is big enough.

“Having an adequate-sized holding area is fine, but 244 cars is too much. Downtown property is going to be too popular in the near future,” said Silvia Klatman, executive director of the chamber.

To support Klatman’s statement, there is a 1.5-acre plot of land at Fourth and Washington Street up for bid on eBay. The site is the future home of waterfront condominiums. The asking price is $3.5 million.

McDonald, too, sided with Klatman.

“We see a need for a larger holding area. However, we must have a balance between WSF’s needs and the needs of downtown,” McDonald said. “The amount of land downtown is finite so we must be careful to have enough property for business and other uses.”

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