Clinton trail project, van pool purchases put on hold

An on-again, off-again trail project in Clinton is off again, and Island Transit’s plans to purchase 24 replacement vans is being deferred to an undetermined date.

The projects were among the first in the state to be affected by the passage of Initiative 976, which limits car tab fees to $30. Since the initiative is estimated to cut $4 billion in tax revenues by 2025, Gov. Jay Inslee asked the Department of Transportation to postpone all projects that are not currently underway.

The state recently released a list of more than 90 projects and grants that will be delayed for at least six months; the two grants for projects in Island County made the list.

Island County was awarded $860,000 for a trail between the Clinton ferry terminal and Ken’s Korner, which is envisioned as part of a “bridge-to-boat” trail that would run from Deception Pass to the ferry. The money would have been used for preliminary engineering and possibly right-of-way purchases.

Connie Bowers, assistant county engineer, said the county was trying to get under contract for the grant, but wasn’t able to complete it before the list was released.

Three years ago, commissioners Rick Hannold, no longer on the board, and Jill Johnson declined $1 million in grants for the trail, saying that there were unanswered questions about the cost and feasibility.

Then, however, state Rep. Dave Paul, an Oak Harbor Democrat, was able to secure a new grant for preliminary work. The proposal is for a 10-foot wide, paved separated trail on the northeast side of State Highway 525 that could be used by pedestrians, bicyclists and potential equestrians.

Estimated construction cost is $4.1 million.

As a result of I-976’s passage, a $515,000 grant to Island Transit to purchase 24 new vans is also on hold.

Todd Morrow, Island Transit director, explained that the vehicles are for the van pool program, which provides groups of commuters with a van that they drive themselves while paying for gas and insurance. The majority of the van pool groups are going to Boeing for work, he said.

The grant would have been used to replace 22 vans that carry seven passengers and two 12-passenger vans. The vans that the officials hope to replace range from eight to 13 years old and have 100,000 to more than 160,000 miles on them.

The upshot of the delayed grant, Morrow said, is that the vans will need more maintenance and are more likely to break down. The agency may look at hiring another mechanic.

But beyond the van grant, Island Transit may also lose operation funds if I-976 is upheld in court.

About 19 percent of the agency’s operating funds, or $3.2 million, come from state programs that may be significantly cut because of the decrease in car tab revenues.

But, Morrow said, Island Transit won’t be making any service cuts until the impact is more clear.

“There are just so many uncertainties,” he said.

“We’re not going to make any big decisions.”

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