State grants help Island Transit


Whidbey News-Times editor

Island Transit got a busload of new dollars from Washington State Department of Transportation last week.

The DOT announced that Island Transit received $544,000 in funding to purchase eight mid-sized buses and $190,165 to improve public transportation for people with special needs.

“It’s new money for a two-year period,” said Martha Rose, director of Island Transit. “That’ll help a lot. It was heaven sent.”

Island County’s haul was just a portion of the total DOT awards of $38.5 million to 83 public transportation projects over the next two years. Consisting of both state and federal dollars, this is the largest budget and highest number of projects ever funded through the state’s transportation programs, according to a DOT news release. A vehicle sales tax increase helped make the extra funds available.

Rose said Island Transit will now purchase eight 16-passenger buses to help meet “route deviation and paratransit” needs. These buses leave the main highway to pick up disabled individuals who live in widely scattered areas.

“We put on so many miles,” Rose said.

By expanding the fleet, each vehicle can be kept in service longer, she explained.

Rose said the state funding was no sure thing, especially coming out of a legislative session keyed to cost cutting.

“I’m very surprised because it’s been such a tough session,” she said.

“Sen. Haugen really pushed hard,” she added, referring to the Camano Island senator who has long championed public transportation.

Haugen stated in a news release that the funding will particularly help people living in rural communities and those with special needs.

Island Transit has depended more on grants since Initiative 695 slashed the motor vehicle excise tax in 1999, Rose said. Later, Island County voters approved a .03 percent sales tax increase to keep Island Transit in business, but Rose said the resulting revenue flow is “still 20 percent short of 1999 revenue.” As a result, grants are critical.

“We’re just trying to stay healthy,” she said.

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