Factual data, plus interpretation and implications, by Wynne Lee
We have all heard the many claims from the Lummi Nation that “speeding ferry traffic” is a very serious threat to road safety on Haxton Drive. No other traffic sources are ever mentioned in their discussions or press releases concerning the need for road safety improvements — or who should pay for them.
Had ferry traffic increased along with ferry traffic-related accidents in recent years, that might have supported the Lummi Nation’s firm insistence (to local and federal representatives) that costly safety improvements should be linked to renewal costs for the Whatcom County Ferry dock lease at Gooseberry Point.
However, ferry traffic has decreased, not increased over the past several years. This is clearly seen in the data from Whatcom County Public Works, ably summarized and analyzsed by Chandler Johnson of the Ferry Task Force. Information from pages 9-13 show that ferry traffic decreased nearly 20% between 2007 and 2010. Truck traffic was the first to decrease substantially, especially between 2007 and 2008; in 2010, traffic in all categories decreased across the board by ~10%. (There were insufficient data from 2011 to include in the report, and earlier data were incomplete.)
Thus, any perceived (or actual) recent increase in traffic on Haxton Road or problems with road safety can not factually be blamed on increased ferry traffic.
In light of this fact and the absence of objective evidence that ferry traffic has been a source of accidents on Haxton Way (from the joint Lummi Nation-Whatcom County 2009 report), it is difficult to see why either the Lummi Nation or Whatcom County should, objectively, continue to tie any costs for safety improvements to the ferry dock lease at Gooseberry Point.
Clearly there are political reasons for ‘tying together’ dock lease and general road safety costs, especially if only ferry users but not the many other users of Haxton Road (Lummis, non-tribal residents, visitors, businesses) end up being asked to pay for ‘safety improvement costs’.
Given that ferry traffic has decreased by 20% over the past four years and is not a substantive source of accidents on Haxton Road, it is neither just or reasonable to burden only ferry users with future costs of road safety improvements on Haxton Road.
All users of Haxton Road (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles) should be required to pay for safety improvements, not just ferry traffic. This could be done by implementing a local transportation improvement district that minimally would include the entire reservation and Lummi Island. Either that or the costs should, as they are elsewhere in the County, be shared costs since Haxton is a county road, open to all.
The full truths of traffic safety problems and all their sources need to be honestly evaluated and acknowledged by everyone, from the Lummi Nation to County citizens and non-resident property owners. To date, that complexity has not even been acknowledged, never mind discussed publicly.
Until the complex realities that underlie Haxton road safety are acknowledged openly, we will continue to see partial but very costly ‘solutions’ to traffic problems on that road. And if only ferry users are forced to bear the costs, the funding of such partial ‘solutions’ will also be unjust.
(Note: I am not implying that there are no safety problems on Haxton Road, or that ferry traffic doesn’t contributes in any way to safety concerns. Most islanders are, in fact, keenly aware of those problems and try to be ‘good neighbors’ when driving on Haxton or other county roads through the reservation. It’s just that the causes of safety problems, and fair payment for solutions, are not and should not be attributed solely to ferry traffic.)