Sounder service has made headlines following a report by the Sound Transit Citizens Oversight Panel (COP) that expresses concerns about lower-than-expected Sounder North ridership.
We share the desire to see Sounder better utilized. Our service along the shore of Puget Sound offers the nation's most beautiful commute. More people need to climb aboard. Sound Transit's practical ideas to build ridership include more parking options as well as efforts to reduce impacts from mudslides.
We applaud the Sound Transit Board's clear Oct. 26 response to the COP that the agency will focus on building ridership while maintaining current service levels. We strongly disagree with COP's suggestion of reducing Sounder service to pay for more buses on I-5. Our communities have made a tremendous long-term investment in Sounder. We will not stand for reducing service.
A number of vocal Sounder opponents, many of whom live nowhere near Snohomish County, have tried to skew the COP's report to suggest the service might be subject to outright elimination. That will never happen. The COP group explicitly stated it is "not suggesting that Sound Transit dismantle the existing North Sounder service."
Each weekday, hundreds of Snohomish County commuters take the Sounder train to Seattle. Riders have chosen Sounder over the time and cost -- and headaches -- of taking a car or bus on the freeway and getting stuck in some of the worst gridlock in the nation.
Instead, they hop on Sounder, open their laptops, and spend a peaceful commute getting a head start on their work. More than a few catch up on lost sleep. Many enjoy the breathtaking views.
We will do our part to help ensure that more riders enjoy Sounder, which is vital to individual commuters and to our long-term development goals for our cities.
We definitely need more parking at the Edmonds and Mukilteo stations. We will work with Sound Transit and other potential partners to explore options. We are hoping to achieve expanded parking in Edmonds soon, and Sound Transit is gearing up to look at options in Mukilteo, where station improvements including better pedestrian access are also on the horizon.
As we enter the rainy winter months, commuters should benefit from reduced impacts from mudslides. BNSF is loosening a past 48-hour moratorium on mudslides, under which even the most minor slides stopped passenger service for a full two days. While erring on the side of caution and safety, there will be more local discretion to maintain service. We are also pleased the state of Washington received a $16 million federal grant to stabilize the shoreline in the most slide-prone areas.
Sound Transit also plans to look for opportunities to further improve connections between Sounder trains and Washington state ferries runs.
Sounder is a long-term investment for Snohomish County. We had to pay more than we wanted to secure rights from BNSF to use its tracks, but the rights we secured are perpetual. They will increase in value dramatically with each passing generation. By the Year 2040 the region's population will grow by more than a third, increasing our chronic road congestion.
Snohomish County worked long and hard for commuter rail service. .. We prevailed. It took seven years before the stations at Everett and Edmonds opened, and another five before Sounder reached Mukilteo in 2008, just as the national recession hit and forced many people out of work and off the trains.
More riders are already coming. August 2012 Sounder North ridership increased 25 percent from August 2011.
Working to accommodate more riders in Edmonds by giving them a place to park, Sound Transit has agreed to lease 103 parking spaces from Salish Crossing LLC of Bothell, which recently purchased the Waterfront Antique Mall property next to the train station in Edmonds. The spaces would be in addition to the 156 parking spaces at the Edmonds station. The agreement still requires approval by the Sound Transit board of directors. A vote is expected Nov. 15.
Sound Transit is intensifying its promotional efforts. A marketing survey this year showed more than 80 percent of respondents within the train's service area agreed it is important to have both bus and commuter rail; that bus and commuter rail benefit the entire community, not just transit users; and that Sounder will be even more important as the area's population increases.
We applaud Sound Transit for resisting the urging by rail opponents from outside our area to revisit the major investments Snohomish County taxpayers have made. Sounder North provides a valuable option that our residents continue to strongly support.
Ray Stephanson is the mayor of Everett, Joe Marine is mayor of Mukilteo, and Dave Earling is the mayor of Edmonds and a Sound Transit Board member.
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