Port of South Whidbey urged to get in the Mukilteo parking business

An aerial view of downtown Mukilteo. The search continues for new overnight parking spots near the ferry terminal that can be used by island commuters.

Curt Gordon sees an opportunity on the other side of the water to help island commuters and overnight visitors.

The Port of South Whidbey commissioner from Clinton has his eye on property in downtown Mukilteo on which the port could build a parking garage for as many as 70 vehicles.

“Somebody’s got to do something about this, and the port’s focus is on business development,” Gordon said Monday.

“We have to start somewhere,” he added of the Mukilteo parking situation. “Right now we’re going backward. We’ve got to turn this around.”

In the past two years, nearly all 300 of the overnight parking places once available to island commuters and weekend visitors within walking distance of the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal have disappeared.

Only about 75 parking spaces remain, and those rent for $130 to $140 per month and have long since been claimed.

Overnight parking, meanwhile, is prohibited on city streets, although some commuters have managed to rent parking from private property owners.

The overnight parking spaces are valued by commuters who keep vehicles on each side of the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route to avoid driving aboard every day, and by overnight visitors to the island who catch a ride or a bus on the Clinton side.

But parking in Mukilteo has gradually dwindled, thanks to the construction of new ferry holding lanes, expansion of the Rosehill Community Center up the hill and additional landscaping and parking reconfiguration of city park property near the Mukilteo Lighthouse.

Gordon said he’s found a piece of property within two blocks of the ferry terminal that would provide as many as 25 parking spaces immediately, and which would accommodate a garage which could be built in the next few years, as funding becomes available.

“It’s a tough site to build on, but nothing’s easy anymore,” Gordon said. “There’s just nothing else available down there.”

“It would be a substantial cost,” he acknowledged. “Parking garages aren’t cheap.”

Gordon said the project could be financed with 20-year revenue bonds, along with state or federal grants.

He said the property is currently in the jurisdiction of the Port of Everett, which would have to sign off on his proposal. He said Everett port officials have promised to give him an answer soon.

If the Port of Everett has no objections to the plan, negotiations could begin for purchase or lease of the property, which already has the appropriate zoning designation, Gordon said.

He said city and county officials on both sides of Saratoga Passage have been looking into solutions to the parking dilemma. But the most plausible solution so far appears to be a location at Paine Field, two miles from the ferry terminal, that could be serviced by Community Transit buses.

A proposal last 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 Mukilteo City Council after neighbors objected.

Last year, the Clinton-Mukilteo ferry route was the third in ridership in the ferry system, behind Seattle-Bainbridge Island and Edmonds-Kingston.

According to Washington State Ferries, the route carried nearly 3.9 million total drivers and passengers and more than 2.1 million vehicles in 2010. There were about 2.8 million total passengers, including nearly 1.3 million vehicle passengers and 471,690 foot passengers, WSF said.

Gordon said he has been pursuing a solution to the parking problem in Mukilteo for the past two months, and his fellow port commissioners “are on the same page with me.”

“It gets us in the door,” Gordon said of his proposal. “Right now, there aren’t any other real options.”