A pilot program is in the works by a private developer to offer ferry service routes from South Lake Union to the 17-acre Southport development in Renton by 2020, with the possibility of adding routes to and from the University of Washington, Kirkland and Bellevue. The eventual plan for Seco Development is to turn the ferry service over to King County after three years of operations.
Although the initial 50-minute ferry rides from Renton to that area of Seattle aren’t likely to reduce commute times, the developer sees it as an alternative transportation service in which riders can conduct work via ferry Wi-Fi service.
“You get predictability, you get the opportunity to be productive, and we think that that’s valuable,” Seco Development Planning Director Rocale Timmons told the Washington State Transportation Commission at its July 16 meeting. “Having a fast passenger ferry service on the Lake is a pleasant and predictable commute.”
Timmons added that expanded routes “would be a godsend” for commuters along the heavily congested Interstate 405 corridor from Kirkland to Renton. According to SECO Development, the 149-passenger ferries could travel from Southport to Bellevue in roughly 17 minutes and 30 minutes for Kirkland. Fares are expected to cost $7-8 one way.
“It’s much more pleasant than sitting behind brake lights on I-405,” Timmons said.
She added that Lake Washington also offers a less costly way to expand transportation options. “You don’t have to purchase it, you don’t have to construct it – it’s there. It’s free right of way. It’s not open water, and so a lot of the concerns that you have…potentially on Puget Sound we don’t have.”
For Seco Development, the ferry service also provides alternative transportation for people traveling to its 712,752 square-foot Southport development along Lake Washington in Renton, which includes a Hyatt Regency and 30,000 square feet of retail space. The developer anticipate 7,000-9,000 people on site daily. Also located near Southport are two major employers; Paccar’s Kenworth Truck Renton factory, as well as the Boeing Renton factory that has 15,000 employees.
According to Timmons, the ferry service was first proposed to Seco Development over a decade ago by King County. However, the issue was tabled following the Great Recession.
Now, the developer is conducting a feasibility and outreach plan to examine operational costs and terminal infrastructure. They plan to launch the pilot in 2020 for two or three years before handing it over to King County, said Timmons. “We are merely just a catalyst in the form of hopefully a public private partnership to get the service started and then eventually allowed to go public.”
Another piece of the ferry service is getting commuters to the terminals. One possibility is increased transit or shuttle programs. Eventually, Seco Development will seek an operating agreement with King County in addition to a memorandum of understanding regarding landing terminals.