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Mt. Vernon Bus Proposal Begs Community Insight

OUR VIEW

Original Article
A plan to start a commuter bus line linking Bellingham to Mount Vernon is an idea with promise but also one that raises some serious long-term questions for our community.

MOUNT VERNON BUS SERVICE IS TOPIC

Whatcom Transportation Authority board members will consider bus service to Mount Vernon during their Wednesday meeting, which starts at 8 a.m. in council chambers at the county Courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.

To see copies of the new bus, rail and ferry studies, or for more details about the North Sound Connecting Communities Project, go to http://www.discovery.org/cascadia/ and click on “North Sound Project.”

It makes good sense to have better transportation options to meet the needs of a growing number of people who commute to Bellingham from Skagit County, particularly Western Washington University students and employees. At least 600 students a day come to Western Washington University from Skagit County. A smaller number go from Whatcom County to Skagit Valley College.

But the idea of creating better links to Mount Vernon, and then possibly Everett and Seattle raises the issue that we will be encouraging more people to move here and work elsewhere – drawing our still relatively remote county more into the sprawling metropolis that now seems to stretch along Interstate 5 from Smokey Point to Centralia, with traffic jams at any point in between.

It’s something our community should take the time to discuss and plan for.

Officials with the North Sound Connecting Communities Project recently introduced a proposal to start the Bellingham-Mount Vernon bus service in September. The Whatcom Transportation Authority is part of the project and would contribute $50,000 and some bus drivers to the effort. Skagit Transit would provide the buses and also some drivers. WTA officials are talking about that plan at a meeting this morning.

Project officials say the buses would serve people who commute for work or classes at WWU or Skagit Valley College in Mount Vernon.

The state approved $2 million for the two-year bus demonstration project, which also includes runs between Oak Harbor and Stanwood via Mount Vernon. A draft schedule has up to eight trips each direction Monday through Friday, possibly with some reduced service on Saturday.

There certainly is a history of transportation between the two cities, with the well-known Interurban trail along Chuckanut Drive once the rail bed for a streetcar service that connected Bellingham and Mount Vernon.

Other parts of the transportation study are a little more debatable though, and we hope county residents will weigh in with their opinions.

A commuter rail line that would link Bellingham to Everett, and connect with trains into Seattle, would cost about $50 million and need an annual operating subsidy of about $4 million, officials said. The study estimates between 1,200 and 1,800 riders a day on commuter trains from here to Everett. The current Amtrak service is not considered commuter rail because it doesn’t leave and arrive at times convenient to doing business or working a full day in Seattle.

On the one hand, it is smart to plan ahead for our long-term transportation needs. Officials working on the transportation plans say that the amount of commuting between Northwest Washington counties is increasing. The 2000 Census found that 5.4 percent of Whatcom County commuters, and 9 percent of commuters in Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, Island and San Juan counties, commuted between counties. That’s up from 3.3 percent in Whatcom County and 5 percent in the five counties in 1990.

And if many more people are going to be commuting from our county to the Seattle-Tacoma-Everett-Bellevue metropolis, maybe it makes sense to start planning now so that we aren’t stuck in Interstate 5 gridlock from the border to Seattle 50 years from now.

Important decisions about the future of growth in Whatcom County are being made all the time. We hope as many citizens as possible will make their voices heard before the decisions are final.