Commissioners clash over Whidbey Island-wide bike trail in Freeland

A bicyclist treks along Bayview Road during a recent sunny day. Island County wants to have a bike trail from the bridge to the ferry.  - Janis Reid / The Record
A bicyclist treks along Bayview Road during a recent sunny day. Island County wants to have a bike trail from the bridge to the ferry.
— image credit: Janis Reid / The Record

A portion of a Freeland trail project was removed from the county’s Capital Improvement Plan on Monday, despite urging from South Whidbey Commissioner Helen Price Johnson.

Island County commissioners voted 2-1 to remove phase II of the Freeland trail project at Monday’s regular session.

Price Johnson said Monday she was “disappointed” that her fellow commissioners could not see the value of the piece of trail that would eventually contribute to an island-long bike and walking trail.

“There is a high priority for me to continue to create a path that goes from the ferry to the bridge,” said Price Johnson during discussion at this past Wednesday’s work session. “That’s not going to happen overnight, it’s going to happen in pieces and these are two really important pieces for my community.”

Newly-appointed Commissioner Aubrey Vaughan cast the deciding vote to remove the project.

Vaughan’s main concern about the project was the one-third-acre property adjacent to the trail owned by Island Transit, which remains undeveloped.

Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said that Island Transit wants the property to be developed into a transit station as part of the island-long trail, but does not have a firm construction plan. But they have not abandoned the project, Oakes said.

Vaughan said that if a concrete plan for the transit station was presented, the commissioners could reconsider returning the Freeland trail project to the Capital Improvement Plan.

“I like phase II but I want to know more about it,” said Vaughan, during Monday’s meeting.

The project would cost more than $1 million in state transportation funds with Island County’s contribution at roughly $135,000.

Commissioner Jill Johnson said that while she says “yes” to a lot of these types of projects, the cost of this project crosses the line. Johnson agreed with Vaughan that the trail project should come after the transit station is built.

Johnson said she doesn’t share Price Johnson’s priority for an island-wide trail and knows people who talk about it “with an eye roll.”

“I’m not huge fan of the million-dollar Freeland trail,” Johnson said Monday. “I don’t need a trail to nowhere. I’m not supportive of the concept. It’s only multimodal if transit connects to it. Transit can go first.”

Price Johnson said that the trail has enough value to her community without the transit station.

“I don’t believe my colleagues understand the nature of that area,” Price Johnson said. “There is more than just the transit station it connects with it. Those communities would be using that trail both for pedestrian and for bicycles. I think it’s a false dilemma you’re proposing… folks in Freeland are very excited about having this opportunity.”

The other project Price Johnson fought for was the feasibility study for a trail segment at Midvale Road and Highway 525.

Vaughan, again casting the deciding vote, said that he was in favor of keeping the Midvale feasibility study in the Capital Improvement Plan.

The purpose of the study is to determine if the two small parcels, which include some wetlands, could be of public use as a trail. The Gabelein family has filed a petition for the county to relinquish, or vacate, the property’s right of way to them if a use cannot be found.

“That’s why the road vacation and that feasibility needs to be done,” Price Johnson said Wednesday. “We need to have that done to be able to answer that question at hearing about how feasible that property is.”

Vaughan supported Price Johnson on the Midvale Road study with Johnson dissenting.


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