Parking for Whidbey commuters fading away in Mukilteo

Overnight commuter parking in Mukilteo is going fast, and what’s left of it is going up.

Diamond Parking notified Whidbey Island ferry commuters this past Friday that the city of Mukilteo will take over the two remaining 75-space overnight lots near the Mukilteo Lighthouse.

Meanwhile, in a letter sent to commuters on Monday, the city said one of the lots will be closed permanently on June 1 to accommodate an ongoing remodel of the nearby park.

The letter also said the monthly price for the remaining 75 spaces, if the city council agrees, would go up about $30 to $140 per month in June.

“It’s a pretty significant increase,” Joe Hannan, Mukilteo city administrator, agreed Monday. “But there’s a big demand down there, and the city needs the money. It can help to fund the park.”

Only a year ago, as many as 300 island commuters kept spare cars in Mukilteo, as they had for years, to avoid waiting in line to drive onto the ferry.

But half of those overnight spaces have since disappeared with expansion of the Rosehill Community Center and the construction of 12 additional ferry holding lanes.

“Everybody’s in a mad scramble to find a spot,” said Ivan Solkey, who has been commuting from Whidbey for the past 25 years. He currently drives from Mukilteo most weekdays to his IT engineering job in Bothell after walking off the ferry.

“But the price to park may get higher than it costs to drive on the ferry,” he said.

The parking issue came to a boil this past summer when island commuters, upset with what they considered a dismissive attitude by Mukilteo officials, called for a boycott of Mukilteo businesses.

The dispute peaked at a boisterous community meeting in Clinton attended by Mukilteo, county and state officials, all of whom promised to do what they could to help the commuters.

Hannan said Monday that the city remains sympathetic to the parking dilemma of islanders and is continuing to look for solutions. Meanwhile, the remaining 75 spaces should be safe for the time being, he said.

The lighthouse park redevelopment is currently in phase two, and the last parking spaces won’t be absorbed until phase four, Hannan said.

“That won’t be anytime soon,” he said. “We don’t have the money right now.”

Hannan said the city is taking a short-term, long-term look at the parking situation.

He said that through striping and entryway modification, another seven spaces might be carved out of the remaining parking area.

Meanwhile, the city has switched gears and has approved the conversion of 23 parking spaces next to the Sounder train station to overnight paid parking, if legal issues concerning the public right-of-way can be resolved.

“Right now, people aren’t using that area,” Hannan said. “That’s why we’re considering it.”

The downside of the railway-station plan is that commuters wouldn’t be able to reserve a spot; it will be first come, first served.

“If you have a low-stress tolerance, you might not want to do that,” Hannan said.

Beyond those two proposals for immediate additional parking, “there aren’t a lot of other options,” he said.

A proposal earlier this year by a private developer to build a 300-car overnight parking lot next to Mukilteo Speedway about a half-mile from the ferry terminal was rejected by the city council after neighbors objected.

Hannan said the city has given Island Transit a list of Diamond customers who will lose their parking in June, so it can determine if more van pools would be feasible.

The city’s also looking into the possibility of convincing the private Zipcar company to locate vehicles in downtown Mukilteo for island commuters.

Zipcar, Flexcar and similar firms station small vehicles, mostly in urban areas, for drivers to reserve, borrow and return for a predetermined price.

“We’re trying to see if that’s an alternative here,” Hannan said.

Long-term, Hannan said the answer may be a kind of hybrid park-and-ride lot built by Community Transit or Island Transit, where a section would be reserved on a paid-monthly basis for overnight commuter parking.

He said the best location for such a lot would be in the Chennault Beach area of Paine Field, along Mukilteo Speedway about two miles from the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal. The property already is graded, and there’s a bus stop, he said.

“But it’s too far to walk,” he added.

The old World War II fuel storage area next to downtown Mukilteo has the space, but commuter parking may not be an option.

An eight-year effort to transfer ownership of the property from the Air Force to the Port of Everett and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is nearing completion.

Air Force officials said last spring that any change in the plan to accommodate parking would create an unacceptable delay.

“We’re trying to push the transfer through sooner rather than later,” Hannan said. “Parking’s not an option until it’s transferred over. We’ve asked.”

Meanwhile, the city continues to forbid overnight parking on its own streets.

Both Solkey and Hannan say the state is ultimately responsible for solving problems created by the ferry system.

Washington State Ferries has a long-rang plan to relocate the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal about 100 yards toward Everett to the site of the existing Navy pier, but that won’t happen for at least four years, if then, until the state Legislature finds the money.

Meanwhile, Solkey said that if he can’t find a paid spot for his “$250 absolute-don’t-lock, AM-radio beater,” he may do what other commuters have tried to do: find someone in Mukilteo who will rent him space on private property, maybe a little piece of driveway.

Hannan acknowledged that he’s heard of residents who will rent parking spots on their property for $50 or $75 per month.

“We know that’s going on with some people,” he said.

“We’re not encouraging nor discouraging it.”

Hannan said the city acts only when it receives complaints about possible illegal parking.

“We’re not running around looking for people who are violating the law,” he said.

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