Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Plan now for weekend closure of Whidbey Island ferry route

By Broch Bender

Do you regularly take the ferry between Whidbey Island and the Olympic Peninsula? It's a beautiful trip, but you may want to make other plans on Nov. 5 and 6. On those two days, the Coupeville ferry terminal will be temporarily closed for some earthquake retrofitting work.

The work will start after the last sailing on Friday, Nov. 4, and last until after the last sailing of the day on Sunday, Nov. 6.
With just one slip at the Coupeville terminal, it's impossible to maintain service during this weekend's work.
The Coupeville ferry terminal will be closed Nov. 5-6 for seismic retrofitting work.

In need of an upgrade
The Coupeville to Port Townsend route provides an essential link and an exceptional shortcut between the Olympic Peninsula and Whidbey Island; turning what would be, at best, a 4½-hour drive into a scenic one-hour ferry trip.

The 40-year-old existing structural towers that raise and lower the moveable bridge between the ferry and the Coupeville dock are made of wood and could be damaged during an earthquake. We need to try to fix that so we can keep the route safe for the 787,391 people who use it every year.
The 40-year-old structural towers much be upgraded for safety. The horizontal frame across
the two towers will be removed and then put back into place this weekend.

Why a full closure?
Unlike most of our ferry terminals, Coupeville only has only one slip - with only one moveable transfer span, our name for the bridge to get cars and people on and off the boat. Since last September we've been strengthening its old support columns with unshakable steel beams and piles with no loss of ferry service. However, this last phase of work requires us to temporarily dis-assemble the transfer span towers, making it impossible to support ferry service on the Port Townsend/Coupeville route.
Timber piles that are not seismically retrofitted remain vulnerable and could collapse during a major earthquake. This project, similar to the recent seismic retrofit work at Vashon terminal (above), helps maintain vehicle and pedestrian access between the ferryboat and the terminal in the event of an earthquake.

The tricky part is getting access to the horizontal connector frame connecting the two towers. This weekend, crews will work from a barge to remove the horizontal frame, add steel to the recently installed huge concrete caps on the tops of the towers and then re-strap the connector frame atop the sturdier concrete caps. This way when the ground starts shaking, the headframe and towers have a better chance at staying connected as one unit instead of splintering and crashing to pieces.
In late October, crews worked from a barge to install concrete support blocks
to the top of the vehicle transfer span towers at Coupeville terminal.

There's never a good time to suspend service on a ferry route, however closing the route around the clock for a weekend allows us to complete these necessary safety repairs outside of the work week, and in time for Veteran's Day travel.

Alternate routes and longer wait times
When the Port Townsend/Coupeville route is closed, customers are encouraged to use the Edmonds/Kingston, Mukilteo/Clinton  and Seattle/Bainbridge ferries as alternate routes. Customers traveling on those routes should expect longer wait times due to the extra traffic all routes will likely absorb during the Coupeville terminal closure. WSF will update Twitter and send ferry travel alerts with wait-time information throughout the weekend.

Vehicle reservations between Port Townsend and Coupeville
Because there will be no ferry service on Saturday, Nov. 5, and Sunday, Nov. 6, vehicle reservations have been suspended for travel out of an abundance of caution, reservations also are suspended for Monday, Nov. 7 in case severe weather or unplanned construction delays require work to extend past Sunday night.

We know this closure is going to present a challenge for many of you. It's a difficult task balancing work needs with the needs of travelers. We appreciate your patience and cooperation as we get these critical safety upgrades done.