2007-2010: 20% Drop in Ferry Traffic

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.)

9 thoughts on “2007-2010: 20% Drop in Ferry Traffic

  1. I know this is just anecdotal information but I have been commuting on Haxton at least twice a week for several years. I play a little game with myself. When someone passes me at a high rate of speed (over the speed limit) or impatiently tailgates me, the game is to see if they turn off at McKenzie, go to the store, continue on Lummi View past the ferry dock, or turn into the ferry line-up. I’ll have to say, most of the time they are not going to the ferry. Their favorite destination tends to be McKenzie. Coming off the ferry heading into town, I have occasionally seen an impatient ferry commuter passing other cars at a high rate of speed, but this is rare. Pretty much everyone observes the speed limit.

  2. Wynne, Are you going to share this information with our hosts at Monday’s dinner?

    I’ve known for years that ferry traffic (and use) has been down. Less paying customers results in higher ferry rates. The death spiral is alive and well. I mention $20 to my off-island friends who’d like to visit the island (car, driver, and passenger) and they say No Thanks. Unless we come up with another funding source (taxing district?), the off-island perception of islanders being rich may come true sooner than we wish. Maybe, stopping the ferry at 10 pm each night could save some $ on labor and overhead?

  3. There is a standard financing instrument authorized under state law and available for making road and utility improvements, one familiar to all levels of government. It’s a Local Improvement District, or L.I.D. These are districts that allow citizens to agree to tax themselves for improvements, directing governments to issue municipal bonds to pay for the work.

    They are initiated by petition of at least 50 percent by land area of the proposed district properties. This starts a process that can only be overturned by a petition of sixty percent by parcel of the proposed district properties. Government can refuse to follow the petition’s direction only if it can show that the costs are greater than the value likely to be added to benefiting properties. This safeguard prevents economic waste.

    There is some flexibility is assessment, by square or front footage and less frequently by benefit area, but the assessment method will generally be uniform. In theory, contingent on sovereign considerations, the Lummi Island Community and Lummi Nation could draw district boundaries, get signatures on a petition, take it to the County and get the ball rolling – everyone shouldering their fair share of the costs, but getting it done by dint of their own initiative.

    Several such districts with differing assessment methodologies might be necessary to accomplish all the Tribe’s aims. For instance, the Slater elevation project might be seen to benefit the Casino more than islanders. Safety improvements near the landing might rely more on island participation, and Gooseberry Point properties. Meanwhile, sidewalks and lighting on Haxton might lean heaviest on properties fronting the road and the Tribe in general. Because the County has their stake in the ROWs, an L.I.D would not prevent other grants from contributing to the projects. Local assessments could attract grants designed to help offset costs related to regional benefits, as for the refineries or our new coal port. 😉

    The L.I.D approach is an excellent way to gauge the true level of popular support for such improvements. Furthermore, L.I.D.s are hoc districts for specific improvements that expire when the bonds are paid. It is worth exploring this option thoroughly before establishing a separate standing tax district that creates a rate base susceptible to ongoing assessment. The method is tried and true and designed to fairly apportion project costs.

  4. Meredith, I have been playing the same game for years
    with the intention of speaking to those speeding drivers. So far all the speeding drivers seem to turn off on McKenzie. Going to town I do see some speeding drivers that came off the ferry. With at least 20 Lummi Police I only rarely see them on Haxton. I wonder if that is deliberate?

  5. Wynn-
    I agree with your analysis, and I hope your will share it on Monday night (if you are allowed to?).
    Thank you. – Steve Schneider

  6. Wynne..

    The LID issue is a reasonable and practical choice for normal communities to achieve inexpensive funding source for local capital improvements which can be amortized long term. Under a LID improvement district, each property is typically encumbered for their fair share of the cost of improvements with peridioc payments required and a coresponding lien against the real property.

    Generally speaking tribal land ( not to be confused with fee simple land located within the boundaries of a reservation) is often subject to or protected by Tribal Law or BIA rules, which often make LIDs and Conventional Bank financing problematic. In other words, the Tribe or B IA may not allow liens to be filed or may not agree to generally accepted remedy rights in the event of default. Siince they are a soverign nation, they often want to impose their own unique rules which can make the underwriters and LID bond buyers reluctant to play.

    Its still a great idea and worth purusing, but it means the Tribe and other property owners which receive the benefits, are the ones who must foot the bill. It will be interesting to see the Tribes response to such a proposal.

  7. Wynne,
    First an overdue thanks for this vehicle of consensus! Its been interesting watching the changes in thinking as we consider each others viewpoints. I am very sorry I cant be at the dinner, I’m in rainy California training for work. From the tone of some comments lately, I may be accused of ulterior motive, but it was a hard time to leave home not knowing how I would get home, or what would happen when I am gone. I liked so much of the tone of Tip Johnsons letter about attending the dinner ,I hope and prefer to assume it was sincere.To think otherwise isn’t useful and is counterproductive. I feel there needs to be at least a hope of improving the relationships between our communities in order to find the solutions. this forum is a place to share 1/2 baked ideas but the more public the comments become the less can be taken for granted in our communications to prevent time consuming misunderstandings. Formal language and excellent manners are useful [not that I can master either] Still there is a way to convey respect and real consideration of ones own or another persons needs in order to make mutually beneficial agreements.Tribal people I have known refer to this as coming from the heart. I’m happy to see the invitation extended for the pancake breakfast on the Island but I’m concerned the date will convey some disrespect. Why not extend another date and build some friendships over time/ walking in each others moccasins may solve the traffic problem. I’m really sorry I can’t be there…..,maybe the next meal…

  8. The following numbers are from “Wikipedia”. The 2010 Census shows a 2.5% population growth on the Reservation:

    Population Living on the Reservation

    It is estimated that there are 6,590 people living on the Lummi Reservation. Roughly 2,564 of these people are enrolled Tribal members, 665 are either related to or live with an enrolled Tribal member, and 3,361 are not Tribal members nor are they affiliated with the Lummi Nation.

    There are approximately 1,864 homes located on the reservation. Approximately 697 of these have an enrolled Lummi living in the home; thus, roughly 1,167 homes on the reservation do not house a Tribal member. The 2000 census official numbers were 4,193 persons residing on its territory, of whom 1,828 (43.6 percent) were whites, and only 2,114 (50.4 percent) were of solely Native American heritage.

  9. If the Lummi succeed in building their marina, won’t the traffic to and from that attraction far exceed the traffic now caused by those who travel on Haxton on the way to and from the ferry?

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