State Ferries to tackle congestion, chaos at FH ferry landing

Pedestrians sauntered along Front Street as a vehicle unload off a ferry in reverse at the Friday Harbor ferry landing.    - Scott Rasmussen
Pedestrians sauntered along Front Street as a vehicle unload off a ferry in reverse at the Friday Harbor ferry landing.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

By Steve Wehrly/Journal Reporter

It’s a good day when somebody else wants to pay for just one project in San Juan County. So it’s “double your pleasure” day for San Juan and Lopez islands when state and federal officials announced they’ll pay for projects in each location.

On San Juan, the Washington state ferry system, and everyone else, has noticed the crowds at Front and East streets. Ferry “walk-offs” spill into the street and crowd the sidewalks, lurching in front of cars and holding up traffic as they head in all directions when coming off the ferry.

Friday Harbor Administrator Duncan Wilson said the corner of Front and East streets “is the only place in town where people and cars need another few degrees of separation so somebody doesn’t get hurt.”

The state Department of Transportation has filed paperwork for a Shoreline Substantial Development Permit to reconstruct the sidewalks and replace the signage at the corner of East and Front Streets. On Thursday, the Friday Harbor Town Council scheduled a special meeting at noon Aug. 14 to consider the shoreline development permit.

On Lopez, the pavement on the terminal trestle is wearing out. The U.S. Department of Transportation recently announced a $600,000 grant to rebuild and repave the trestle between the island and the ferry loading ramp.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, praised the grant for Lopez, which was one of six grants totaling $5.8 million in federal funding for the state ferry system.

“Our ferry system needs investment,” Larsen said in a press release. “These grants will create jobs and help make sure that folks who rely on ferries are traveling safely and efficiently.”

No timetable for engineering, construction or completion has been announced by the ferry system for the Lopez repair.

In Friday Harbor, the ferry system has decided to combine about $241,000 of federal money and nearly $63,000 of state money to rebuild the whole street corner across Front Street from Cannery Landing.  New stairs, ramps, and pedestrian walkways - and lots of new signs - will be constructed in front of the historic house referred to by locals as the “Doctor’s Office.”

The ferry system says the project “will reduce vehicle/pedestrian conflicts and streamline vessel loading/offloading operations” and new informational signage “will help direct pedestrians to their desired locations.”

Town council approval of the permit for the Friday Harbor project is expected at the Aug. 14 hearing, or shortly thereafter. Construction is scheduled to begin in spring of 2013, according to the DOT.

Administrator Wilson’s summed up his reaction: “The town will not be required to participate in the cost of the project.” And because no state or county money will be used for the Lopez project, both islands can claim a “win”.


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