Ferry terminal construction to begin this summer

More than 100 people turn out for 3rd open house event
By Nicholas Johnson | Feb 22, 2017
Photo by: Nicholas Johnson Andrew Bennet, principal engineer with KPFF Consulting Engineers of Everett, talks with Losvar Condominiums resident Don Van Winkle on Wednesday, Feb. 15, while answering questions and explaining the finer points of the state Department of Transportation’s design for a new ferry terminal in Mukilteo. Bennet serves as the lead consultant on the project, working with other consultants to design the majority of the project.

Following an open house last week and more than a decade of planning, state engineers are finalizing the design of Mukilteo’s new, $139-million multimodal ferry terminal project.

“You’ll be able to catch a Sounder train from Seattle, walk on to the ferry in Mukilteo and be on Whidbey Island without having to haul your car along,” Washington State Ferries project manager Charlie Torres said.

“You won’t have to depend on that car anymore. That’s a big part of why the federal government is chipping in, because it’s multimodal.”

Torres and about 14 other state and city officials were on hand Wednesday evening, Feb. 15, to answer questions and explain the nearly complete project design before some initial construction activity begins in August. About 110 people turned out and some 35 comment forms were submitted.

“It was not as well attended as our last two open houses,” Torres said. “None of the comments will affect the construction contracts we’ll put out to bid this year, but some will affect spinoff projects, such as improvements to State Route 525 and the city’s need for a parking facility.”

Torres said two preliminary construction projects are due to begin in August and last through February 2018, when crews must stop work in order to protect migrating fish in accordance with state and federal law. The full project is expected to be complete by December 2019.

An old Tank Farm pier has already been removed and the channel has been dredged. The next two projects include installation of a storm water utility line along First Street and construction of a concrete trestle on which the terminal building will be constructed beginning in June 2018.

Some 60 steel pipes 24 to 30 inches in diameter must be driven into the sea floor to support the trestle.

“People will see this happening this fall,” Torres said. “Because of the noise issue, we vibrate them in.

“These vibrating machines are gigantic. That itself is noisy, but the last 5 to 10 feet will require us to use an impact hammer that’s even noisier. That will be the loudest thing people will hear.”

Shock waves created by the hammer threaten marine animals, so crews must ensure the area is clear, with help from an on-site biologist, before beginning work, he said.

When this hammer hits the top of the piling driving it in a few inches at a time, it creates huge shock waves,” Torres said. “If the water is too choppy, we have to stop because we can’t prove it’s clear down there.”

Though construction equipment won’t enter or leave the site after 1 p.m. on Fridays to avoid ferry traffic, construction vehicles could complicate an already messy area for traffic.

Rather than use Front Street, construction trucks will use a route at the back of the current ferry holding lanes. Walking the waterfront on foot will also be complicated as pedestrian paths are expected to move around over the full two-year construction process.

In the end, the hassle will improve everyone’s ability to navigate the waterfront, Torres said.

“People forget why we are doing this project,” he said. “We’re doing it because we have a 60-year-old timber ferry terminal that a lot of people depend on. We want to ensure people can get back and forth, on time.

“Today, when you get off the boat in Mukilteo and head up to 5th Street, the light might be red and you still have people on the boat,” he said. “We can’t start loading again until everyone’s off.”

The new terminal will send off-loading vehicles down two lanes for a third of a mile to a signal-controlled light at Mukilteo Speedway.

“We want to time the light to ensure cars get to the Speedway, at least,” he said. “That should allow us to empty the whole boat and begin loading.”

As part of the effort to improve traffic flow on the Speedway, the state is planning to better distinguish the ferry holding lane from regular traffic at the 5th Street intersection by widening the lanes and adding posts as a barrier.

“It’s a very unusual intersection,” said Barbara Briggs, an assistant region traffic engineer for the state Department of Transportation.

“With the ferry project happening, we’ve been working more with the city of Mukilteo and have settled on these improvements.”

Work at that intersection begins this summer and is expected to cost about $30,000, while simultaneous improvements to a crosswalk at Goat Trail Road will cost about $60,000.

The old terminal’s design means walk-on passengers often get in the way of vehicles driving onto the ferry at the Front Street intersection.

“It’s dangerous now,” Torres said. “And in rush hour, the captains can’t keep up with the 30-minute schedule. Since pedestrians will no longer be in the way, it will be quicker to load and unload.”

For 79-year-old Losvar Condominiums resident Don Van Winkle, construction noise and traffic will be a small price to pay for improving congestion on the waterfront, especially during the busy summer months.

“That intersection at Front Street and SR 525 is a death trap during ferry off-loading,” he said.

“Pedestrians can’t see when off-loading cars have a green light. I’ve seen mothers with children start crossing the crosswalk, causing off-loading cars to stop. The question is: who has the right of way?”

Van Winkle also said he’ll be glad to see a bus stop at that intersection move to the new terminal.

“The existing bus stop only holds two or three buses,” he said. “If there are more, they sit in front of Diamond Knot. The new space can hold something like twice as many buses. That is one huge advantage.”

As a condo owner since 1999, he said he also won’t miss the prop wash created by the ferry upon arrival and departure.

“The impact of that undermines our parking area next to the ferry,” Van Winkle said, noting that he petitioned the state in the early 2000s to put protective riprap between the lot and the waves.

“Our parking area was starting to fall into the water because a cement wall was being undermined by those waves.”

Some of the top concerns throughout remain concerns for many people, Torres said, citing bike lanes and vehicle parking as two of the biggest. Though cyclists won’t have their own lane when on loading and off loading, they will have a 5-foot lane in the holding area, he said.

As for parking, he said the project could add 10 spots, but that won’t alleviate much of the demand.

“The folks on Whidbey want to keep a car on the Mukilteo side, and no one suggested they would be willing to pay a monthly fee to keep a car parked there,” he said.

“And the Mukilteo folks, the neighbors of this project in the Old Town area, don’t want people parking on their streets. Many people also didn’t want to see a multi-level parking structure on the waterfront.”

That’s why the bus turnaround area will be particularly valuable, Torres said, adding that he is also excited about sidewalk improvements for people in wheelchairs.

“The new signalized intersections have curb ramps for wheelchairs and kids strollers,” he said. “If you look at the sidewalk by the tollbooth now, it’s awful. It just stinks for anyone in a wheelchair.”

What he’s most excited about, though, are the project’s unseen green features, including pervious holding lanes and a terminal without air conditioning.

“It might mean people perspire on hot days,” he said. “There are really big fans on the ceiling that move air around and, on each side of the building, mechanical windows will automatically tilt open and closed based on the temperature.

“In the holding lanes, water will be able to percolate through the concrete. After it goes through a fat layer of pervious concrete, it will be filtered through a fat layer of sand.”

Comments (1)
Posted by: Joe Kunzler | Feb 22, 2017 16:53

I'm still concerned about general public restrooms.  Which are necessary.

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