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Rebuilding Plan for Seattle's Aging Colman Ferry Dock

Washington State Department of Transportation

The makeover of Seattle's downtown waterfront is picking up steam as the seawall replacement, the viaduct removal, and other major projects gear up for action. Into this mix will come another ambitious renovation—a near-total rebuild of the Washington State Ferries' flagship terminal, the historic Colman Dock.

Just across the street from Colman Dock, the roar of the Alaskan Way Viaduct is a reminder that this is an integral part of Seattle's central waterfront. It's home to the Bainbridge Island run, the ferry system's largest link that accommodates more than 8.5 million passengers each year.

Originally built in 1882, Colman Dock was the heart of Seattle's “mosquito fleet,” the steamships that carried people and goods across the Puget Sound region. Now, the facility once again needs updating.

“Two-thirds of Colman Dock sits on pilings that have been there for over 70 years,” said David Moseley, head of Washington State Ferries. “In fact, the pilings right underneath the terminal building were put in there when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president.”

The rebuilding plan includes tearing out the old pilings, building a new support structure, and replacing the terminal building. It's a major $268 million project that won't be finished until 2021.

For people who depend on Colman Dock to get to the city, the prospect of at least six years of demolition and construction is unsettling.

“I would want to know what kind of guarantees or game plans they have in place as a contingency for delays in traffic, getting back and forth. That'd be the biggest thing,” said Craig Heisinger, who commutes daily from Bainbridge.

Aaron Geisler, another daily commuter from Bainbridge, says he hopes the ferry system is coordinating with those other waterfront construction projects.

“When they tear down the viaduct, are we going to be climbing over concrete chunks to get there, or you know, how are we going to get there, both for cars and people?” he said.

Moseley says he's acutely aware of the challenges coming up.

“We will do everything we can to assure the smoothest operation of the terminal that we can,” he said.

The new terminal will have more retail space both inside and on the street. But don't look for a major upgrade in available amenities.

The design and environmental review phase of the Colman Dock project continues through next year, with construction slated to begin in 2015.

Liam Moriarty started with KPLU in 1996 as our freelance correspondent in the San Juan Islands. He’s been our full-time Environment Reporter since November, 2006. In between, Liam was News Director at Jefferson Public Radio in Ashland, Oregon for three years and reported for a variety of radio, print and web news sources in the Northwest. He's covered a wide range of environment issues, from timber, salmon and orcas to oil spills, land use and global warming. Liam is an avid sea kayaker, cyclist and martial artist.