Langley council questions grant request for tram project

LANGLEY — A proposal to build a tram on city property to connect the Langley Marina with Cascade Avenue has thrown some on the city council for a loop.

At Monday’s council meeting, some said they hadn’t known Langley was moving forward on the pedestrian tram until they had read a story about it in the Record.

City staff submitted a $400,000 grant application to the Island Sub-Region Regional Transportation Planning Organization in early March to get funding for the $462,428 project.

Council members said they were surprised by the grant application.

“When was the decision made to move forward with the funicular?” asked Councilman Robert Gilman.

“I have to say I was really surprised,” he said.

“I was a little surprised myself,” added Councilman Bob Waterman.

City Planning Director Larry Kwarsick said the project has been mentioned in the city’s capital facilities plan, and also Langley’s transportation improvement program.

City staff also said the idea was talked about when the council reviewed potential development scenarios in the Wharf Street area.

Kwarsick pointed out that Island Transit’s development plan also mentions the project, and city officials noted that Gilman serves on the board for Island Transit.

Gilman, however, said he did not recall much discussion about the project. And he said there had been talk about other ways to improve pedestrian access.

“I was under the impression that we were going to be able to have a discussion of the options,” Gilman said.

“I was frankly really surprised to see that this has gone ahead.”

The councilman also said that while the project may be worthy, it may cause impacts to the bluff near the marina.

Councilwoman Fran Abel said she was also taken aback.

“I thought this would be a council discussion and a council decision,” Abel said.

Kwarsick said the grant application didn’t lock the city into the project, but again noted the proposal had been mentioned multiple times in the city’s plans.

“It doesn’t commit the council to move forward,” Kwarsick said.

Councilman Hal Seligson said competition for grant funding would be intense, and indicated that council hand-wringing over the grant application may be premature.

“I think this may be an academic discussion for now,” Seligson said.

Monday’s conversation between the council and city staff was a bit of déjà vu all over again, and called to mind the council’s rehashing of the Langley Christian Missionary Alliance Church park-and-ride project earlier this year despite rounds of prior approvals.

Kathleen Waters, a Wharf Street property owner, recalled the long history of the idea for an elevator near the bluff by the marina, but marveled at the entertainment value provided by the council’s tram talk.

“This is probably the greatest show on earth tonight,” she said.

The grant application is one of four under consideration.

Island Transit has submitted a request for $38,925 in funding to expand its camera security system at the bus agency’s facilities and park-and-ride lots.

If Island Transit gets the grant, it would install new security cameras at its Noble Creek Transit Park in Langley, the Prairie Transit Park in Coupeville, and at other locations. Island Transit has already completed the first phase of the project at its transit station in Oak Harbor.

Oak Harbor has also submitted a grant application for $165,000 to help pay for the upgrade of NE Seventh Street between N. Oak Harbor Street and Highway 20.

The fourth grant application is a $300,000 request by Island County for funding for intersection improvements to East Camano Drive on Camano Island.

A group of technical experts will meet later this week to rank the four projects, said Donna Keeler, the Regional Transportation Planning Organization planner for Island County.

The Island Sub-Regional Transportation Policy Board will then meet on April 27 to make a decision on the grants.

Langley’s proposal is for a pedestrian tram that would connect the Wharf Street and marina area to Cascade Avenue. It would be electrically powered and have a four-person capacity.

City officials said the project would provide a needed link between the waterfront and off-site parking, and would improve safety and enhance pedestrian and traffic access near the marina.

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