The Washington State Legislature has tentatively earmarked a grant that could save Island Transit’s Route 411 just weeks before it ceases operations the afternoon of July 31.
In late-night sessions culminating in the wee hours of July 1, legislators passed a compromise state transportation package that has since hit a snag due to a new gap in the state operating budget, according to aides in Rep. Dave Hayes’ office late last week.
The legislation, ESSB 5988, includes transit grant funding for a variety of projects around the state. Among them is a $2.3 million grant for Island Transit providing two years funding for Route 411 from Terry’s Corner to Mount Vernon plus Oak Harbor to March’s Point.
However, it remains unclear today whether or not Island Transit will have to make a $594,000 match over two years or $297,000 a year.
Island Transit board members have expressed ongoing hesitance in paying for service beyond Island County borders.
“We want to maintain and retain affordable transit service in our district,” said Island Transit Board Chairman Rick Almberg at a recent Oak Harbor City Council meeting.
“We do not have the money to subsidize service in Skagit County or in Snohomish County. The 411s were created through a grant by the legislature that lasted for two years. That grant expires on the 30th of this month. We’re going to carry that service until the end of July, and that service terminates at that point unless the Legislature or work by Skagit and Snohomish County can step in and meet us at our borders.”
Almberg said he has been in touch with Senator Barbara Bailey and Hayes and he applauds them for their efforts.
However, even if grant funding is approved, he wants state legislators and the Washington State Department of Transportation to “put pressure on the other transit districts to connect our borders to their borders,” as “we are not linking up seamlessly.”
Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson, who also serves on the Transit board, agreed that Skagit County should meet Island County halfway.
“The cost burden and tax benefit of transporting people into Skagit County is too high and we need to focus on our primary role, which is not providing connector services but providing fixed route and para-transit service in our own county,” Johnson said in an emailed response last week.
The next Island Transit meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday, July 24, at Island Transit Operations and Administration Building, 19758 SR 20, Coupeville.