Vashon Island Bridge Idea About To Sink -- Instead, Panel Poised To Favor New Ferries, 2Nd Narrows Bridge

The notion of building a bridge across Puget Sound to Vashon Island - a highly charged concept that inflamed island residents - is likely to die tomorrow.

In its place, the State Transportation Commission is to consider a resolution saying the best way to transport a growing population across Puget Sound is by building three jumbo ferries and a second parallel Tacoma Narrows Bridge, according to Commissioner Norm McKibben of Walla Walla.

The ferries would cost about $240 million. The parallel bridge from Tacoma to Gig Harbor could cost more than $300 million. McKibben said the resolution will be introduced at a commission meeting tomorrow in Olympia.

McKibben in 1989 sponsored a study that looked at two dozen possible ways to improve transportation across Puget Sound, including building a floating bridge to Vashon Island and a suspension bridge leading off the island to the Kitsap Peninsula.

At a recent public hearing on Vashon about that option, more than 2,000 people jammed a high-school gymnasium to express angry opposition, saying it would destroy the island's rural quality of life.

An anti-bridge organization quickly formed, denouncing the idea as ill-conceived. The island's weekly newspaper devoted regular full-page coverage to the issue, with strongly worded editorials against it.

Although he defends the need for including the Vashon bridge option in the $1.06 million study, McKibben now acknowledges he was

perhaps politically naive about the study's implications, recalling that several people, including Transportation Secretary Duane Berentson, warned him against such a review.

"Duane counseled me, `You don't know what you're stirring up,' " recalled McKibben, adding: "I didn't have any idea how unpopular it was."

At the same time, McKibben said, he still feels he had to examine all the options before settling on so expensive a recommendation as building the jumbo ferries.

"What really frustrates me, before I voted on three jumbos, I wanted to know what the long-range outlook was . . . our big goal was to have a purely technical report that wouldn't come to any conclusions. . . . The study was not a bridge study," said McKibben.

Commissioner Aubrey Davis of Mercer Island agreed. "I think this was an appropriate exercise to go through," he said. "If the commission hadn't done it, people would have cried, `You haven't looked at it squarely.' "


Tomorrow's resolution recommending jumbo ferries instead of a cross-Sound bridge is likely to be introduced by Alice Tawresey, a commission member from Bainbridge Island who has worked closely with McKibben during the past two months to prepare the measure, McKibben said.

The jumbo ferries would be similar to the Walla Walla and Spokane ferries, built in 1972.

They would carry 206 cars, 2,000 passengers and be 440 feet long. For comparison, the last ferries the state bought, six Issaquah-class vessels, are 310 feet long and carry 100 cars and 1,000 passengers.

The second Narrows bridge would virtually duplicate the present bridge, standing about 250 feet south, and would be 1.1 miles long. The concept calls for each bridge to carry traffic in one direction, with three or four lanes on each bridge.

McKibben said two other major issues are likely to emerge tomorrow.

One deals with an in-state preference for ferry bidders. The Issaquah contracts contained such a preference, and a Seattle shipyard got the job, although a New Orleans yard was low bidder.

However, some federal funds could be available for the new ferry work under a 1991 transportation law which prohibits such preferences. The resolution will have to address that.

The resolution also is expected to ask for a continuing look at how long the three new ferries would be able to meet cross-Sound demands.


It probably would be 1998 before all three ferries could be in service. McKibben said he wants to make sure a plan is kept up to date to meet possible increased cross-Sound demands.

While the seven-member commission has the role of setting policy for the state Department of Transportation, the resolution is not a decision to actually build the ferries or the bridge.

That decision would have to be made by the Legislature. The earliest that could happen would be in January.