Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ferry-to-Ferry Tram?

Even though Island Transit does a fine job with it's free bus service on Whidbey Island, I think we could use a radical change in our transportation system. When we get a Whidbey PUD, we'll have access to inexpensive electrical power, so it will make sense to use some of that power on electric mass transit.

The most efficient transportation option for us may well be some form of light rail. Light rail can include monorails, but I think simple trams would work best for our needs. Monorails are usually elevated, but we are lucky enough to have a nice wide highway right-of-way running all the way up the island, so we shouldn't need to elevate any of the line. A simple electric tram should work nicely. We have electric lines following the highway anyway, so there won't be any high-wire issues, either.

Construction costs for simple light rail run from $15 million per mile to $150 million per mile, in fact Seattles light rail is running $175 million per mile. Since we won't need to buy any right-of-ways, nor do we have much in the way of road crossings -- certainly not every block, like big cities -- our construction costs should be amazingly low, probably below the $15 million per mile considered the low range. Even at $15 million per mile, we only need about 40 miles to connect the bulk of our population -- Clinton to Oak Harbor Naval Air Station. That works out to just over half-a-billion dollars. Not really that much, nowadays.

If we want to get fancy, we could run a tram to Langley, to connect with the new small boat harbor, however I think our bus system should be used to connect outlying points. We should, however look into running the line down to the Port Townsend ferry. There might even be some state money for us if we run the line all the way up the island, onto Fidalgo island, and to the San Juan Island/ Sidney BC ferry terminal. If we did this, someone could fly into Sea-Tac, take the light rail to Seattle, take the Sounder train to Mukilteo, and then take the Island Transit train all the way to the San Juan ferry, all without getting on a single smelly, noisy, slow, rubber-tire bus.

Most tram projects are very expensive because they aren't built until the population is so huge that there is no better choice. Then there's a lot of right-of-way that needs to be purchased, and existing infrastructure to be built around or through. If we think ahead, we can be ready for the growth that our island will experience as global climate change continues to improve our weather. A Whidbey tram service would reduce the number of cars on our roads, stimulate the local economy through increased tourism, and provide a brighter future, both for our children and for us all as we gracefully grow old, and must rely upon public transport more frequently.

Trams on Whidbey Island.

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