By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — A lack of funding will force Island Transit to end service this summer on a popular route that links residents of Camano Island and Stanwood with downtown Everett.
Leaders of the public transit agency are warning riders that the Everett Connector will be canceled when the money runs out June 30.
But they also are asking lawmakers for help in finding enough state transportation dollars to continue operating the popular run.
“We are trying to find a stop gap to get us through next year but I haven’t found one yet,” said Martha Rose, Island Transit’s executive director. “I am beating my head against the wall trying to figure out what to do.”
Count Stanwood’s Megan Vogel among the many riders keeping their fingers crossed a solution can be found.
“This is a fantastic service that I would really hate to see go,” Vogel said. “What’s frustrating is these routes are full. I hope there is a way to find some funding and more sustainable funding for the future.”
The Everett Connector, which began service July 10, 2006, carries passengers between Terry’s Corner Park &Ride on Camano Island and Everett Station. There are four round trips in the morning commute and four more during the afternoon drive home. An average of 180 to 200 riders a day travel on the buses, Rose said.
Since its inception, funding from the state transportation budget covered the operating costs. When lawmakers adopted the 2013-15 transportation budget last June, they only put in enough dollars for one year of Everett Connector service.
And, in an unusual move, those funds were allocated in a specific line-item provision. Nearly every other public transit agency obtains its funding from the state’s rural and regional mobility grant programs. Those grants are handed out on a competitive basis.
Rose said she thinks some lawmakers thought the budget provision provided all the money needed for the two-year budget cycle and didn’t realize otherwise until late in this year’s legislative session.
Some lawmakers, she said, mistakenly thought funding for the Everett Connector was included in a different batch of state dollars earmarked for the Tri-County Connector. That is a totally separate route serving Island, Skagit and Whatcom counties.
When leaders of Island Transit realized their situation, they began asking lawmakers for additional money. Bob Clay, chairman of the Island Transit Board of Directors, requested help in a Feb. 5 letter to members of the House Transportation Committee.
Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, the transportation committee chairwoman, said those leaders knew last year that line-item funding would run out and not be renewed, and that they needed to seek dollars from the mobility grant programs.
“We told them you have to compete like everybody else,” she said, adding it might not be too late to get a little aid.
Rep. Dave Hayes, R-Camano Island, said he’s looking in every pot of state dollars for the roughly $450,000 needed for another year of service.
“I’ll be seeking out every potential source of revenue,” he said.
He, too, called on leaders of the agency to seek a grant to cover the route’s operating expense.
“It is ultimately up to the agency to apply for those resources,” he said.
If the Everett Connector ends this summer, it could be restarted next year if funding is secured, Rose said. A lengthy hiatus is not what she desires.
“It is just extremely unfortunate,” she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.