Council gets ferry update from WSF
Last updated 9/12/2018 at Noon
The tariff wars have put the brakes on construction of Mukilteo’s new ferry terminal. Roughly one month after the new ferry terminal project was again delayed, three members of Washington State Ferries (WSF) came to Mukilteo to present the mayor and city councilmembers with the latest project update.
Project Manager Charlie Torres, Director of Terminal Engineering Nicole McIntosh, and Director of Government Relations John Vezina gave an update on the $167 million project to Mayor Jennifer Gregerson and councilmembers at a committee meeting on Monday, Sept. 10. All members of the council attended or phoned in except for Councilmember Scott Whelpley.
McIntosh told the mayor and council about what occurred this summer, which resulted in contractor bids being declined.
As previously reported by The Beacon, WSF’s budget for construction of terminal buildings and other key components was roughly $65 million. When WSF received bids from the various contractors, all bids were well over budget.
The closest was $8 million over budget, with the next closest coming in at $18 million over.
“The bids we received were much higher, or over budget,” she said. “We rejected all bids, and once they were rejected we contacted the contractors to see if there were any risks or ambiguities we should know about.”
What WSF heard from contractors was that steel was a big issue, as it is costing more these days, thanks to tariffs put in place by the Trump administration.
McIntosh said while they were receiving bids, contractors asked questions about the project, but WSF often didn’t have enough time to accurately answer all their questions.
She said the immediate plan is to take the input they’ve heard from different contractors and find the “low hanging fruit” to save money before going back out to bid.
“Our goal is to go out to bid again next month,” she said.
Vezina said that, legally, they have to change aspects of the project before going out to bid.
Gregerson asked for their updated estimate for the opening of the project, and Torres estimated late 2020, a delay of six months.
Councilmember Bob Champion asked what the newest bids will look like in contrast to the previous bids, and Torres said the project is not being scaled back, but there are minor changes to be made.
Council President Steve Schmalz, who phoned in to the meeting, told the trio he wants to see a list of changes before they go out to bid again.
“If it affects the ‘low hanging fruit’ like aesthetics or fencing, we should know,” he said.
McIntosh said they can provide a list for the council, and that they found more money internally that will allow for more flexibility. She believes Torres will find enough minor fixes to save money, so major changes to the project shouldn’t be necessary.
“I don’t think there will be anything where we have to open up permitting with the city,” she said.
One way they’ve already determined they can save money is with flooring.
“We had a pretty expensive floor originally, and now we’ll keep it concrete like you have at Rosehill,” McIntosh said.
Part of the project as a whole is to remove the old terminal as well as the old fishing pier, which McIntosh said they’ve labeled as “bid alternates,” but due to other commitments with Tribes and other agencies and organizations, those need to be removed very close to the new terminal’s opening day.
Vezina said he understands the city’s frustration with the project being delayed again, and said WSF is just as frustrated, but assured them they’ll get the job done.
“We have a commitment to you to build a beautiful new terminal,” he said.
Councilmember Sarah Kneller wanted to see if there was any way to change the fencing near the toll booths and vehicle holding area because she was worried about the aesthetics of having chain-link fences, as well as access to the planned promenade near the water.
Torres said the fencing is a lot nicer than she is imagining, and that fencing is necessary there because of issues with people potentially walking on the sidewalk and then hopping into cars in the holding area that have already paid for their trip in order to save some money.
Kneller asked if there was any way that could go back to the drawing board, and Vezina said that would be difficult with how far into the project they are.
“We want it to be attractive to the city,” Vezina said. “It’s tough to do that kind of design change.”
Council Vice President Christine Cook said people are good about “self policing” at the waterfront, noting people report those who cut in the ferry line. She also said she’d heard originally that the fencing was necessary because it was a Department of Homeland Security issue, and McIntosh said that was also why this was planned.
Vezina said the Coast Guard is getting more vocal with WSF about counting the number of customers on board each trip, and the fencing is a big part of helping with that, and there aren’t really other alternatives.
“We’ve spent thousands for automated customer counting, and nothing has really worked,” he said.
Kneller, and later former Councilmember Kevin Stoltz, had issues with the route through 1st Street, saying that area needs improvements for the high level of traffic it will soon be receiving.
Kneller voiced concerns that there isn’t an evacuation plan in place. Torres said once the project is operational, WSF will work with local first responders to create a plan.
Schmalz asked if WSF would need to go back to the Washington state Legislature for additional funding, and Vezina said that may be necessary, but they hope otherwise.
“We’re going back out to bid in October, and we’re hoping they have enough to get it done, but I may need to go back and ask, which may cause a delay in getting that money,” Vezina said.
Vezina has been talking with state legislators like Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, so if he does have to put in a request for additional funds, it wouldn’t be a surprise.
Former Councilmember Charlie Pancerzewski voiced concerns over traffic.
Condition 56 states that prior to the issuance of any permits, the applicant (WSF) shall host a public meeting to identify traffic mitigation measures to address citizen concerns. This was for both during the construction of the terminal, as well as for when the terminal is operational.
He said that issue hadn’t been properly addressed, and he regularly sees people doing u-turns on the Mukilteo Speedway to get into the ferry line.
“I’ve gone to the Rosehill open houses, and it only seemed to talk about traffic during construction and not after completion,” he said.
Pancerzewski also said he believed too much of the blame was being put on the price of steel and the tariffs, but he’d heard at a recent Ferry Advisory Committee meeting that another large expense was electricity.
In the meantime, Torres is working to find minor ways to save money in the project before they go back out to bid next month.
Vezina said they will likely open bids from contractors starting Nov. 21.
Once completed, the new terminal will be one-third of a mile east of the existing terminal, and will have new buildings, toll booths, and more.
The Mukilteo/Clinton route transports more than 4 million passengers each year, and ferries more vehicles than any other in the state.
For more information on the project, visit http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/Ferries/mukilteoterminal/multimodal/default.htm.