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Fast ferry testing begins

The dream of being able to commute between downtown Bremerton and downtown Seattle in less than 30 minutes is one step closer to reality as the latest fast ferry prototype hit the waters on Feb. 4.

Being able to make the commute in less than 30 minutes while minimizing the environmental impact on the shorelines of the Rich Passage is perhaps the biggest obstacle in achieving the ultimate goal of having an improved passenger-only ferry service between downtown Bremerton and downtown Seattle, said Bryan McConaughy, a spokesman for Pacific International Engineering (PI Engineering).

“We want to make it very clear that there is no one vessel that will solve all the issues,” McConaughy said.

The Rich Passage is a unique environment and even with the best technology available there will still be an impact on the shorelines, he said.

In 2002, the state agreed to pay property owners along Rich Passage $4.5 million in damages caused by the ferries’ wake, as well as to continue monitoring shorelines for any additional impact. In exchange, property owners allowed the Washington State Ferry System (WSF) to operate the ferries at 16 knots through the passage and the bay.

The agreement does not limit the property owners’ ability to file suit in the future if damages continue.

“There is still going to be an impact and we’re looking at what improvements can be done to mitigate the impact on the environment,” he said.

PI Engineering, which is heading the project, was able to obtain the latest high-speed ferry, the M/V Spirit for testing between now and April, he said.

“We were lucky to be able obtain it,” he said. “We have a great opportunity to see how the latest technology works in Rich Passage.”

The 72-foot catamaran has a hull designed to minimize wakes at high speeds. The boat will simulate a weekly ferry run, making eight round-trips between Seattle and Bremerton Monday through Friday. It will carry 20,000 pounds of water to simulate 149 passengers.

Using the vessel will allow project engineers to observe the dynamics of the vessel’s trips through the passage instead of relying on computer-aided models, he said.

“The goal is to have it do eight trips through the Rich Passage during the week,” he said. “It gives us pictures of different weather situations, tides, currents and a whole gamut of things.”

In April the vessel will be delivered to Alaska for use during the summer before hopefully returning to the area in fall, he said.

During the break, researchers will be able to analyze all of the data from its runs and make modifications when it returns, he said.

The trials are part of the Fast Ferry Research Project that was initiated in June 2004, designed to investigate the feasibility of adding passenger only fast ferry service between Seattle and Bremerton. The project is being funded under federal grant program administered by the Federal Transportation Administration and is being conducted under the direction of PI Engineering of Edmonds.

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