Bremerton bets on a fast ferry. Will Seattleites? | KUOW News and Information

Bremerton bets on a fast ferry. Will Seattleites?

Jun 14, 2017

Bremerton hopes to be the next bedroom community for Seattle. The mayor is promoting the city, and developers are building places for people to live.

Now an important opportunity is just days away. Starting next month, a fast ferry will halve the time it takes to travel between Bremerton and Seattle.

This is happening at a time when the Seattle side of Puget Sound is undergoing a new level of stress. Rents are astronomical. Home prices are at record levels. And traffic congestion is worsening.

In Bremerton, housing is much cheaper. But the trip there is long: a full hour on the state ferry. You can drive through Tacoma, but it's even longer.  

On July 10, that changes when Kitsap Transit launches its fast ferry service between Bremerton and Seattle. It will take 28 minutes to make the trip on the vessel, called the Rich Passage I.

“If you can save five minutes for a commuter, you have a friend for life,” said John Clauson, head of Kitsap Transit. “In this particular situation, we’re going to be able to cut their commute time in half.”

This change has startling implications: You can currently drive to Snohomish from downtown Seattle faster than to Bremerton. Come July 10, the opposite will be true.

On the Bremerton side, the docking area where that fast ferry will leave looks much different from the state car ferry terminal.

Kitsap Transit currently runs its long-standing routes to places like Annapolis and Port Orchard from docks below the car ferry terminal. Among its current ferries is a working antique, the Carlisle II, which turns 100 this year.

The new fast ferry to Seattle will pull up to a dock nearby. It'll be more expensive than the state ferry, which costs $8.20 for a return trip. The fast ferry will cost $12 for a return trip. 

There's also a space limitation:  The ferry can only carry 115 passengers, but it will take reservations.

In the 1980s, the state had a bigger fast ferry on the Bremerton route, but it had to stop. The speed created waves that damaged the shoreline along Rich Passage, which is a narrow channel.

John Clauson of Kitsap Transit said the transit authority has since found a vessel design that lifts up out of the water. After four months of testing, scientists “couldn’t discern a difference between the wake of that vessel and normal weather events.”

Clauson says if there really is no shoreline damage, they’ll increase the number of trips per day.

A Seattle-Bremerton shuttle is the dream. If it comes true, it could be life changing for people in Bremerton who want to get to a medical specialist or a football game quickly. Puget Sound will be less of a barrier.

Would Bremerton appeal to people looking for an alternative to life in Seattle?

Clauson said some people moved to Bremerton years ago, when the state ran a fast ferry. “So we certainly anticipate that’s going to happen again once we start this program,” he said.

“Us locals used to comment that folks in Seattle could sell their 2-bedroom bungalow and come over here and buy waterfront. Just because the price of land is so much less expensive over here.”

But people choose a place to live for a range of reasons, and many locals doubt the fast ferry will bring Seattle to Bremerton's door.

“I don’t know anyone who has moved here because of the fast ferry,” said Rod Blackburn, a real estate agent.

Politicians and developers have worked for years to revitalize the city's economy and renew its downtown. For them, the fast ferry is an essential part of Bremerton's turnaround. And sometime after July 10, people in Bremerton will know whether a shorter trip to Seattle really does make a difference. 

Carolyn Adolph can be reached at cadolph@kuow.org. Have a story idea? Use our story pitch form.