This story started with a July 24 My Edmonds News commentary from Peggy and Ralph Sanders.
“It seems there are,” wrote Peggy Sanders, “no traffic officers anymore so waiting lines for the ferry are now blocking the pedestrian crosswalks and often the intersections at Dayton and Sunset.”
She and others want to know why.
But, what’s this? On Wednesday, My Edmonds News found State Patrol officer Mike Walstad and his K-9 partner, Bacy, parked in the holding lanes at the corner of Main and Sunset.
Don’t get your hopes up. Mike and Bacy were running a federal Department of Homeland Security exercise.
Bacy, a German Shorthair, is an explosives-sniffing dog, was getting in a little practice checking cars waiting for the next boat. Walstad, a 22-year veteran, said that if there was a traffic problem or accident while he is there, he would certainly respond, but that’s not his beat.
Turns out, Edmonds ferry traffic is not anyone’s beat.
Off-duty Edmonds cops have not patrolled ferry traffic since 2016. That’s when a State Patrol contract with a private contractor to hire off-duty Edmonds officers ran out.
At that time, Lt. Troy Tomaras of the Washington State Patrol’s Homeland Security Division, said it wasn’t necessary to staff the Main Street intersection with any officers. WSP conducted an in-depth study of the Edmonds traffic plan and duties, and determined it wasn’t necessary to have a law enforcement officer at the Main Street intersection, he said in an email. Instead, that intersection can be “adequately staffed” with a Washington State Ferries (WSF) employee and/or flagger, “which will save the State Patrol between $75,000 and $100,000 per year.”
The Edmonds police, the state patrol and the ferry system all say they don’t have the money to hire anybody to handle those intersections; that’s why ferry system workers are there.
Here is where it gets complicated. The police, state patrol and ferry system all say it should be up to the “other guy” to pay for traffic control if necessary.
State Patrol Director of Communications Chris Loftis said in an email earlier this week that last October, the WSP and WSF signed an agreement that if the ferry system wanted traffic patrols, it had to put in an order for them at Edmonds, and the state patrol would do that. But, Loftis added, “On July 1, 2020, after a transition period lasting more than one year, WSF terminated the master agreement with WSP and assumed all responsibility for contracting and scheduling uniformed traffic control services outside the terminals, system wide.”
Ian Sterling, communications chief for the ferries, said that traffic control should be up to the state patrol, State Department of Transportation or Edmonds police. “There’s no money for traffic control in the budget,” Sterling said. “We run ferries, not cars.”
According to Edmonds Police spokesperson Josh McClure, “there has been a great deal of back and forth between the two (State Patrol and ferries), but the short story is that they have both pretty much washed their hands of it and are no longer providing traffic control at any of the terminal locations.” Edmonds police, McClure added, “do not have the staffing to provide full-time traffic control.”
Of course, Edmonds police say they will respond if there is traffic trouble.
To help ease some congestion, the ferry system will install an “on-demand” traffic light at Dayton, which ferry flaggers can control just like the one on Main Street. But Sterling said he does not know when that will happen.
And, he added, what ferry workers are seeing on the ground this summer in Edmonds is an “improvement on years past.” If you want real ferry traffic snarls, said Sterling, that is happening in Kingston and Mukilteo, not Edmonds.
— By Bob Throndsen