Peninsula tourism marketers think midweek closings of Hood Canal Bridge best

A group of North Olympic Peninsula tourism marketers recommends to state officials that midweek Hood Canal Bridge work closures are better this summer to avoid an estimated $5.8 million loss in tourism revenue.

The group comes to this conclusion in a letter sent this week to a state Department of Transportation executive.

Transportation has proposed closing the floating bridge, which is undergoing reconstruction, for two 78-hour weekend periods in August and September.

“We understand this is contrary to standard DOT policy regarding road closures, but the Olympic Peninsula tourism industry is the primary reason traffic counts dramatically increase on weekends,” states the letter from Olympic Peninsula Joint Marketing Partners, made up of chambers of commerce, tourism groups and economic development advocates from Port Townsend, Sequim, Port Angeles and Forks.

State officials claim that weekend closures are preferred because studies have shown that commercial trucking operators and patients needing medical attention in Kitsap and King counties need the bridge open to traffic during weekdays.

Sent to DOT administrator

The letter was sent to Randy Hain, state Transportation’s Olympic Region administrator in Olympia. Hain’s office had not yet received the letter Thursday, and Hain was unavailable to comment.

The marketing partners met last week in Sequim, concluding that they should request specific weekday closures in May, June or September.

The weekdays suggested by the tourism group last week were May 16-19 and May 23-26 as their first choice. Second choice was June 13-16 and June 20-23. Third choice was Sept. 19-22 and Sept. 26-29.

State transportation officials have proposed two 78-hour weekend closures, Aug. 5-7 and Sept. 9-11, to complete work on the bridge’s east and west ends. The work is in preparation for the eastern-half floating bridge replacement now scheduled in 2009.

Wooden Boat Festival

The group’s letter to Hain states, as an example, that the state’s proposed Sept. 9-11 closure date is on a weekend that “draws over 15,000 visitors to the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival.”

While Tim Caldwell, Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce general manager, expressed doubts that the state would agree to weekday closures, Port Angeles Chamber Executive Director Russ Veenema was adamantly opposed to any consideration of weekend closures.

“I think the letter laid out a very good rationale of why a weekday closure makes sense over a weekend closure,” Veenema said Thursday.

The letter states that the group is “very aware” that the work has to be completed “and understand the need for us as a community to be flexible in allowing the contractor to do its work.”

The group’s suggested closure dates “will minimize the negative impacts our region will face.”

Educating North Olympic Peninsula residents about the closures — so they can make plans accordingly and well in advance — is the group’s intent, the letter states.

“We believe we are better prepared to educate residents and commercial traffic regarding the scheduled closure dates. We believe updating visitors planning to attend Olympic Peninsula events, or families preparing for a short vacation, about a bridge closure with a significantly long detour, would be an insurmountable task,” the letter states.

“We are confident, with adequate lead time; we would be able to advise the scheduled closure dates with commercial traffic, those with health care issues, and commuters.

“We have specific ideas on how to accomplish this.”

The group’s letter warned of “the economic disaster” a weekend closure would have upon the Olympic Peninsula tourism industry.

“In July, August and September, our lodging properties run roughly a 90 percent occupancy rate on weekends, with or without an event,” the letter says.

“A conservative estimate for the trickle down effect is a multiplier of five, or $5.8 million in total revenue lost, with no opportunity to recapture it.”

The estimate was based on 1,200 hotel, motel and bed-and-breakfast rooms on the Peninsula that are rented at an average rate of $105 a day.

Using 1.8 people per room spending, the tourism group states that up to $950,400 would be lost in guest spending, aside from lodging rates.

Two weekends lost would come to $2.9 million lost, the group estimates.

“It is clearly evident weekend closures of the Hood Canal Bridge are highly detrimental to the Olympic Peninsula economy,” the letter states.

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