Whidbey’s County Connector bus routes threatened

Island Transit officials are worried they may lose funding for a service that has been seeing tens of thousands of riders.

Island Transit officials are worried they may lose funding for a service that has been seeing tens of thousands of riders.

The Tri-County Connector and Everett Connector provide bus transportation from Whidbey and Camano islands to Mount Vernon and Everett.

Martha Rose, executive director for Island Transit, said she is concerned that the money needed to fund the connector services won’t make it into the state budget. Current funding for the program runs out June 30.

Island Transit participates in two connector services. The Tri-County Connector connects Oak Harbor to Mount Vernon and then Bellingham. The Everett Connector connects Camano Island with Everett. Ridership on the connector routes has increased since they were implemented.

“Tri-County and Everett has become one piece of a nice healthy puzzle,” Rose said.

Island Transit officials have been busy keeping their riders abreast of the situation. They have been sending out rider alerts encouraging people to contact their state representative.

State Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Marysville, who sits on the House Transportation Committee, said that Rose has been doing a great job keeping Island Transit’s riders informed.

The Tri-County Connector and the Everett Connector are line items in the state budget. Hayes said he is talking with legislators in districts affected by the routes along with members of the Transportation Committee in an effort to preserve the connector routes. He said a draft of the state transportation budget should be available sometime this week.

Tri-County Connector costs approximately $3 million per biennium to operate and the Everett Connector costs approximately $2.1 million per biennium to operate.

Both connector services started in 2006 with 55,000 Island Transit riders using the Tri-County Connector and 8,100 riders using the Everett Connector.

Since its initial year, ridership on the connectors has steadily increased. In 2012, 147,000 Island Transit riders used the Tri-Connector and 45,500 riders used the Everett Connector, according to information provided by Island Transit.

The connectors provide an alternative to workers who have long commutes.

Karen Boldra uses the connectors during the week to help with her commute from the Tulalip Reservation near Marysville to her job in Oak Harbor where she is a writer. She drives from her home to Mount Vernon and then hops on Island Transit, which offers fare-free service, to her job on Whidbey. She said it cuts her fuel costs in half and the two-hour trip happens opposite commuter traffic.

“I’m so blessed,” Boldra said.