Pierce County: Ferry system study under way

A study of the Pierce County Ferry System is currently under way to evaluate potential alternatives for the system, such as changes to the schedule and improvements to existing facilities, Pierce County officials announced Friday.

During the Waterborne Transportation Study, Pierce County will analyze population and demographic changes projected through 2034, identify changes to ferry service that would enhance the economic vitality and livability of Anderson and Ketron islands, evaluate the financial sustainability of the system, and evaluate the 14-year capital needs of the system. The study and resulting plan are expected to be complete in late spring 2015.

“This process is an opportunity to review the current status of the ferry system and develop new ideas to benefit the system and our ferry riders,” said Deb Wallace, Public Works and Utilities airport and ferry administrator. “Proposed alternatives will be evaluated from a ferry system and community standpoint.”

A study advisory group will provide input on the needs of the ferry system and the implications of any alternatives to ferry staff. BERK Consulting, a Seattle firm, has been hired to lead the study on the county’s behalf.

The next meeting of the advisory group will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Weds., Jan. 14, at the Steilacoom Community Center, located at 2301 Worthington St. in Steilacoom.

The 10-member group is made up of stakeholders including ferry riders, residents from both islands, and representatives from the Town of Steilacoom, Anderson Island Fire and Rescue, and Steilacoom Historical School District No. 1. The group is expected to meet at 1:30 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month at the Steilacoom Community Center through May. There will be an opportunity for public comment during the meetings.

The study will be completed in three phases. In Phase 1, which started in November and will last through January, the current status of the ferry system will be assessed to understand the system’s history and outlook, and identify key challenges and opportunities for the future.

The county will analyze population and ridership, fare structure and ticketing system technology, the system’s finances, and service including vessels, terminals and operations. Riders will also be asked to take an origin and destination survey.

The county will develop alternatives for the ferry schedule, fare structure, ticketing technology, and cost and revenue strategies during Phase 2 in February.

In Phase 3, which runs March to May, the potential impacts of the alternatives to ridership, finances, customers, and communities will be examined before the plan is developed. During this phase, Pierce County will host two public meetings to share the proposed alternatives and gather feedback.

The draft and final plans are expected to be complete in late spring 2015.

The system was last analyzed by the 2003 Waterborne Transportation Study.

The Pierce County Ferry System provides service between the town of Steilacoom and Anderson and Ketron islands. More information is available online at piercecountywa.org/ferry.