Mukilteo parking issue draws a big crowd to Clinton

There was lingering frustration but few answers as Whidbey commuters who face the loss of their parking places in Mukilteo packed Clinton Community Hall on Wednesday night.

Nearly 150 people met with Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine and five members of the Mukilteo City Council, who tried to smooth feathers over the pending loss of commuter parking on the other side of the water.

It’s been a contentious issue, and islanders were reminded to pull their punches. David Welton, a physician who commutes regularly and organized the meeting, urged that a “collegial atmosphere” be maintained.

“We don’t want this to be like Jerry Springer,” he said.

Also attending the meeting were Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, state Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen of Camano, state Rep. Norma Smith of Clinton and representatives of Washington State Ferries, the state Department of Transportation, Community Transit, and other local transportation agencies.

None stepped forward with a solution.

“Whose job is it?” someone shouted from the audience. “Who’s our advocate?”

“It’s my job,” Price Johnson finally said,

agreeing that the transportation situation is a regional issue, and that the commuter situation had fallen through the cracks.

She said she would continue to work with Mukilteo officials and others to try to locate “pockets of parking” in Mukilteo to accommodate at least some commuters in the short run.

Marine pushed for harmony.

“Working together would be better than both sides of the water fighting each other,” said the embattled mayor, whose previous statements drew indignant responses from islanders.

Marine had said that it isn’t Mukilteo’s responsibility to provide parking.

He also indicated that the city might be more responsive if islanders were more sensitive to the difficulties faced by city residents as a result of the ferry traffic.

The loss of parking creates a dilemma for commuters who keep cars in Mukilteo.

Some at the meeting said taking their cars on the ferry would add an intolerable expense and length of time to their travels.

Others said the loss of parking in Mukilteo may force them to move off the island.

“I need to be able to drive my car and support my family,” said Kelle Vandenberg of Langley.

Still others said that Mukilteo is adding to its traffic woes by eliminating parking spaces.

“Mukilteo’s number-one complaint is the ferry line, and this will make it much worse,” said Brian Maddux of Clinton. “This is damaging both communities.”

Some urged that the state buy property for a commuter parking lot.

“The state is not responsible for parking,” responded Haugen, the chairwoman of the Senate Transportation Committee. “You’ve got to understand that. It’s not a transportation issue, it’s a land issue.”

A suggestion that the reservation system being considered for ferry users might be the answer to islanders facing longer commutes was greeted with loud boos.

“There’s your answer,” someone shouted.

Marine said the best solution would be a long-range one, moving the ferry terminal and building a parking garage, a costly proposition that would take years.

“The idea of building a new terminal is a very long way off,” Haugen said. “You don’t want your ferry rates raised, and we don’t have a lot of money.”

For years, as many as 300 islanders have kept vehicles in Mukilteo so they could walk aboard the ferry without waiting in long lines.

Marine and other officials at Wednesday’s meeting said commuters might work with area transit systems to use vans that could be kept in Mukilteo.

“I’d rather see one van parked overnight than five or six cars,” Marine said.

But Michael Klim of Langley, who commutes to Everett, said many commuters travel at different times, making vanpool and bus scheduling difficult.

“You’re not looking at it as a whole,” Klim added. “South Whidbey needs Mukilteo, and without South Whidbey, Mukilteo would be a gulch.”

“Build a bridge,” suggested Mark Sayko of Clinton.

“I’ve got my piece of Whidbey Island. I don’t care if there are more tourists from Georgia,” he said.

More practically, he and others urged that a priority boarding pass be created to cut down on commuter travel.

“I’ll pay extra for that, since I won’t have to pay for parking,” Sayko said.

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