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Goal: Getting From Here To There

Original Article

Original Article
Goal: getting from here to there

By Peyton Whitely
Times Snohomish County Bureau

Trains and buses and even airport shuttles will be topics of discussion tomorrow when the North Sound Connecting Communities Project gets together to talk about something dear to almost everyone who tries to get around in the north Puget Sound region: transportation.

Informally, the group is known as the Farmhouse Gang because it started meeting in 1996 at the Farmhouse Inn, a Skagit County restaurant. The group will meet at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the restaurant, 1376 La Conner-Whitney Road, about five miles west of Burlington and Mount Vernon along Highway 20.

A variety of subjects are on the agenda, including a discussion of abandoned plans for a NASCAR racetrack near Marysville and Arlington, and the outlook for transportation laws in the state’s coming legislative session.

All of it is aimed at trying to grapple with what’s commonly seen as a major regional shortcoming: a deficiency in ways to travel north and south, and few plans to do anything about it.

The main north-south corridor is Interstate 5, but that’s routinely jammed daily through Everett and north to Marysville. The most recent improvements approved for I-5 will add car-pool lanes in Everett, but that work is expected to take about three years and cost $220 million, and the new lanes won’t go farther north than the Snohomish River.

The Farmhouse Gang is more interested in mass-transit improvements, including trains and buses, and those are among discussion items for tomorrow.

Reports to the group, which is co-sponsored by the Whatcom and Skagit councils of governments and funded in part through a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will include updates on passenger-ferry opportunities, rail issues and the legislative outlook.

For more details

Information about the North Sound Connecting Communities Project is available at 206-292-0401, at www.cascadiaproject.org and from the Discovery Institute Cascadia Project, 1511 Third Ave., Seattle, WA 98101.
Another report will be given by Preston Schiller, a Western Washington University transportation-systems instructor, on suggestions for improving bus service and presenting the results of a commuter study.

The study cites a significant amount of travel among Whatcom, Skagit and Snohomish counties but few mass-transit connections.

For example, Mount Vernon has a fledgling transit hub, the $7.7 million Skagit Station, and there’s Everett Station, but connections between them are lacking.

“We have this wonderful station at Everett Station,” Schiller said, “but you can’t get there. The aspect I’m working on is just how you can connect the counties with better bus service.”

Skagit Station, which opened in August, is enduring growing pains and has just one tenant in place: the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce. Arrangements with other possible tenants, including airport-shuttle services, are still being negotiated.

Even the Skagit County transit agency operates from a trailer in the parking lot, a chamber staff member noted. Negotiations that would allow it to move into the building haven’t been concluded.

Two trains a day serve the new station, but the connections aren’t frequent enough or timed to allow commuting.

Similar drawbacks affect other transportation modes: No connections, for example, allow someone to board a bus in Skagit County and ride to a Stanwood-area park-and-ride lot in Snohomish County, Schiller said.

“Few or insufficient intercounty transit services exist,” Schiller concludes in the report. “Persons who must travel in the North Sound region are becoming more and more dependent on automobile travel, thus exacerbating traffic problems.”

Besides hearing the reports, the Farmhouse Gang will introduce new steering-committee members. They include Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard, Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall, Mount Vernon Mayor Bud Norris and Port of Bellingham Commissioner Jim Jorgenson.

Peyton Whitely: 206-464-2259 or [email protected]