Fast Ferry Service to Seattle: An Encouraging First Step Toward Regional Growth
Seattle is geographically constrained by a narrow peninsula between Lake Washington and Elliott Bay. Growth can be painful when you have to fight your geography, as Seattle has done for over 100 years. However, new and significant regional infrastructure projects, like light rail and the fast ferry, provide opportunities for region-wide growth.
On July 10, 2017, Kitsap Transit commenced its crowd-pleasing fast ferry service from Bremerton to Seattle. The program has been so popular that it recently acquired another new boat from New York to supplement existing service and is expediting construction of additional boats to service Southworth and Kingston. Suddenly, the Kitsap Peninsula is not just an affordable place to live for Seattle commuters, but a convenient one as well.
Nearly every publication in our region is reporting about Bremerton’s potential for economic development as Seattle’s new so-called west side. Mark Goldberg, a prolific developer, has, at least, three multifamily projects in Bremerton totaling 540 apartment or condominium units. As of July, the median home price in Kitsap County was up 11 percent from the same period last year. This data clearly reflects that Bremerton and the greater Kitsap region are poised for growth in housing and consumer-focused commercial development.
This concept of regional development is not new. Our history is full of examples of efforts to develop numerous urban and suburban cores in addition to downtown Seattle. The mosquito fleet’s web of boats transported goods and passengers around the Puget Sound. Now we can get there faster.
The fast ferry, however, is only a piece of the puzzle for sustainable, regional growth. It provides affordable housing to Seattle workers, but it does not yet encourage self-sustaining development. Kitsap Transit’s web of ferries connecting Kitsap County to Seattle will develop bedroom communities as workers look for housing. Housing developments are great for communities like Gig Harbor, Port Orchard, and Silverdale, but it is not the type of long-term self-sustaining development that our region needs as Seattle’s growth bumps up against its geographic constraints.
Cities like Tacoma and Bremerton should take the lead by adopting policies that encourage businesses to locate in their communities, taking advantage of this new crop of resident workers. The significant investment it would take to lure a large employer might take regional resources, but will also generate regional benefits. Tacoma has countless resources, such as a thriving industrial port, to create a self-sustaining economy. Bremerton too should not rely solely on fast ferry service to save its economy. Multi-family projects and residential plats create temporary jobs, but where will the project’s residents work when the project is complete? Likely Seattle. Sure, commuters will generate property and sales tax dollars when they are at home, but true growth, and revenue, needs successful businesses to grow.
Fast ferry service is essential to regional growth by providing affordable housing to Seattle workers, but it is only a means to an end. Regional growth requires numerous economic hubs where people can live, work, and play near, but outside, of Seattle.