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The de-evolution of Mukilteo’s park-and-ride | Guest View

 


Ten years ago, a top Mukilteo priority was to build a park-and-ride at Paine Field. It was the reason the airport cut down all the trees near where Lombardo's Pizzeria is now.

When I was a new councilmember, the former airport director showed me a circa-1997 plan for the park-and-ride. I think he kept it so he could point to it whenever anyone complained about how the trees that buffered the city from Paine Field were gone.

The need for a Mukilteo park-and-ride seemed obvious then and still does today – but, by the time you read this, the council will have made a decision to either abandon the project altogether or move forward with a plan that has devolved from the original.

Here's what happened.

For many years, city officials have been too accepting of excuses for why a project won’t work and even more accepting of compromised projects that hurt Mukilteo more than they help.

Community Transit is the primary agency that builds park-and-rides in Snohomish County.

In the eight years I was a councilmember, the message sent to the council and the city’s Transportation Committee about a Mukilteo park-and-ride wasn't a positive one: The project had two roadblocks.

First, Community Transit had to purchase the property, while Federal Aviation Administration regulations only allow airport property to be leased. Second, Community Transit didn’t have the funds to build a park-and-ride.

Our mayor was on the transit agency’s board and later served as its chairman, so when he repeatedly told us it wasn’t going to work, the council majority accepted it.

In 2012, a couple of us councilmembers went to Olympia and met with a state senator on the Senate Transportation Committee. Surprisingly, some staff members recommended that we apply for a transportation mobility grant to build a park-and-ride. It was a potential source of funding for the project.

Around the same time, the airport director had been working with the FAA to create a 20-or 30-year lease of airport property that worked more like a purchase, so as to meet the grant application’s and Community Transit’s requirements.

I tried to get the city and Community Transit on board with a park-and-ride, but it became clear the perceived roadblocks weren’t budging.

So, I looked for other options to get the park-and-ride project moving again. When I was looking for a sponsor for the state grant, Snohomish County stepped up in a big way: Our county councilman and the airport director supported the project. I wrote the grant.

The plan for the Mukilteo Park & Ride Plus was for it to work as a traditional park-and-ride during the day and as a paid overnight parking lot and weekend overflow lot to ease the parking demands on Mukilteo's waterfront.

That demand is due to the popularity of Lighthouse Park and commuter needs created by the ferry and the Sounder trains. Overnight parking was available on the waterfront until Lighthouse Park was renovated and the new community center was built. As such, the “plus” was an important part of the project.

With the help and support of many, including local, county and state representatives, $1 million was awarded for the park-and-ride in the 2013-2014 biennium.

In 2013, the powers that be gave the project to Community Transit. In just one meeting, the transit agency outlined its plan for the park-and-ride. Overnight paid parking – and the source of funding for operational expenses – was a no-go. At the time, CT allowed vehicles to park for up to 72 hours at no charge, so the commuters were OK with that.

Community Transit estimated it would cost $500,000 – half the grant money – just to design the park-and-ride. I requested that Community Transit implement a temporary park-and-ride with the remaining $500,000 until additional funding could be obtained. That was also a no-go. (A short time later Boeing built the temporary parking currently at that location for their use.)

At the meeting, we were also told that there wouldn’t be a stop in the park-and-ride itself, so commuters would need to cross SR-525 to catch the bus. I objected to this, and was told staff would address safety and efficiency concerns in the design phase.

Two years later, an additional $3.48 million was awarded for the 2015-2016 biennium for a scaled-down version of the park-and-ride.

All was quiet until now. No status reports, no opportunities to provide feedback, no nothing.

At the June 6 council meeting, the CEO of Community Transit attempted to get the council to commit $83,000 toward the project.

Community Transit claims the city agreed to be a financial partner back in 2013, even though there’s no paperwork to show for it.

Rightfully so, the council hesitated to spend Mukilteo taxpayer dollars on a project that creates safety issues and traffic congestion by requiring riders to cross SR-525 during rush hour to catch a bus.

Now Community Transit is threatening to shut down the project, unless the city helps pay for it. (Keep in mind, this property is in unincorporated Snohomish County, not Mukilteo.)

Until now, I stopped supporting this project because it has devolved from a Mukilteo Park & Ride Plus into a parking lot with lots of potential safety and congestion issues.

The council has repeatedly pushed back for similar reasons, but now they risk being turned into the scapegoat for canceling the project. The council doesn't deserve this but will undoubtedly be portrayed as such.

By the time you read this, I'm hopeful the council will have approved funding – subject to conditions.

Hopefully, these conditions will include a commitment to correct potential safety and congestion issues in the near future and, not only that, but provide a quarterly status update on the fixes, as well.

Kevin Stoltz is a former Mukilteo councilmember. He served on the council for eight years from 2006-2013.

 

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