County declines grant for Clinton trail

Federal funding for a proposed trail from the Clinton business district to Ken’s Korner will be declined at the request of two of the Island County commissioners.

Grant funding had been allocated to begin engineering and design the separated, multi-use trail next year. However, at recent meetings two commissioners said they felt other projects should be pursued instead. The project, part of the county’s six-year non-motorized trail plan, is still in the overall plan, but no action on it will be taken at this time

“I chose to support investments in trails that will move the greatest number of people at the lowest possible cost,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said later in an email. “Given that we have two other improvement projects planned for the Clinton area, it is also important that we provide services to citizens throughout Island County.”

During the meeting, Commissioner Rick Hannold also said he felt projects should be prioritized by how many people are using them. Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, whose district encompasses South Whidbey, felt the project would serve a large number of people. In an emailed statement, she cited the fact that the Clinton-Mukilteo route carries the most vehicles in the state ferry system.

“Every weekday the Clinton Park ‘n Ride overflows, and the Clinton Commuter bus has the most riders in the Island Transit system,” she wrote. “A Clinton-Kens Korner trail would be a smart local infrastructure investment for all these reasons.”

The project has been in the long-term plan for around two years, said Public Works Director Bill Oakes. It had been proposed as part of a larger goal to eventually create a trail system within the county that connects the Clinton ferry to Deception Pass Bridge. Johnson has expressed skepticism at the feasibility of this “bridge-to-boat” concept, especially because many of the connections are on different sides of the highway.

“Last year I discouraged putting the Ferry to Ken’s Korner trail in the plan because I had several unanswered questions including what our plans for a bridge to ferry trail route actually is and why we continue to make million-dollar trail investments that don’t connect to each other and that are on opposite sides of the highway,” Johnson wrote. “I wanted to understand the estimated utilization of that trail for that level of financial investment. Those questions are still not answered.”

Two years ago, the project was awarded $750,000 from the federal Surface Transportation Block Grant program and another $225,000 from a transportation enhancement grant, Oakes said. These funds will be declined and staff from public works are working to apply instead for grants for three different projects.

One is a trail from a park and ride near Liberty Grocery that would go along the highway to Oak Harbor city limits, with the idea of connecting Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the city. Another is a loop around Bos Lake using both existing shoulders with sidepaths and soft-surface trails near Swantown Road from Fairway lane. The third project would connect the north end of the paved Kettles Trail to Fort Ebey State Park, using shoulders along Hill Valley Road from Libbey Road to the park.

Transportation Planner Brian Wood said these three projects together would create greater connectivity between trails from the North End to Central Whidbey.

”It’s thinking more about connections than perhaps we have in the past,” he said.

Price Johnson said she is “disappointed” the Clinton trail project won’t be moving forward, but said she would support the new proposals.

Information about the non-motorized trails plan can be found on the Parks and Trails page of the Island County Public Works website.

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