Light on the Earth
By Jeanne Acutanza

When we think of infrastructure, we think of permanence. Something big, hard, and heavy. We think of something that takes a long time to plan and build. We think lots of zeros in the price tag. But what if, from the very start, the objectives included creating something functional without being oversized, something attractive without being gold plated, something that embraces its purpose with an understanding of its historical and cultural context. What if, from the onset, one of the objectives was to create something light on the Earth? This was the case with the Mukilteo Multimodal Ferry Terminal.

Regulations and all the levers of government can help to minimize the negative effects of projects. Environmental regulations found in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) can minimize the harm of an action, but they cannot shape the project itself. With pressures to deliver within budget, as quickly as possible, and incorporate mitigations. Sometimes the outcome is unrecognizable. So how do we create projects that reflect our larger community values? Most projects are born of meeting a minimum function – providing a critical connection or addressing a long-term need. This need is defined at the long-term planning phase. When implementation funding becomes available, the project enters an environmental process that includes evaluating alternatives and determining a project's purpose and need. At this stage, it can also be helpful to define a project vision. Even if the vision is aspirational, it can still be affordable. It helps when the community supports a project and has contributed to that project vision. While the project will evolve through design stages, it should still be recognizable as meeting this vision at ribbon cutting.

The Mukilteo Ferry Terminal accomplishes many objectives, including:

  • Accommodating multimodal connections to bus and rail transit, major regional highways, and bike lanes
  • Relocating the terminal to a former tank farm facilitated an environmental clean-up
  • Acknowledging the history of the site as the signing place for the 1855 Treaty of Point Roberts and embracing participation by local tribes in the development of the design and construction of the site to acknowledge this history
  • Enhancing the natural environment for critical species
  • Reducing the site's carbon footprint incorporating solar energy and natural drainage to meet LEED Gold standards.

With the implementation of green energy for the Ferries, Mukilteo will be the greenest ferry terminal in the country. This beautiful terminal, at the edge of the Salish Sea, with the scent of Cedar and surrounded by tribal carvings and natural plantings, transports us and is indeed light on the Earth.