Forum seeks options for increasing commuter rail service in county

EVERETT — If Snohomish County is going to grow, it needs to invest in rail transportation, panelists at a commuter rail summit said.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon held the forum Tuesday morning to talk about including rail elements in the evolving transportation network.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., provided opening remarks to the dozens of elected officials and transportation experts who gathered at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Comcast Arena. For Larsen, it boils down to political leaders in the other Washington finding a way out of the blame game over which president is responsible for the country’s economic predicament.

“Blame doesn’t create a job,” Larsen said. “The fact is investing creates jobs. Investing in transportation creates jobs.”

Larsen’s office has been focusing its efforts to direct federal money to the 2nd Congressional District to improve the region’s rail system. Washington state received $590 million in a first round of federal railroad infrastructure spending, then got another $160 million after three states rejected the funding.

“If Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida don’t want the money, we’ll take the money,” he said.

As for the county’s transportation future, rail figures prominently in Reardon’s vision using existing rail lines while Sound Transit extends its Link light-rail line from the University of Washington to Lynnwood by 2023.

County public works director Steve Thomsen said a study suggests adding commuter rail service between Snohomish and Everett on the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line to get suburban workers in the east to the county’s job centers in the west.

Heading south from Snohomish is a rail spur that goes to Woodinville that could be used as a commuter rail line to the Bellevue area rather than expanding vehicle capacity on Highway 9 and Highway 522, he added.

The Cascadia Center and TMJ Group are studying the feasibility augmenting Amtrak service between Everett and Bellingham with two trips daily using self-propelled diesel multiple unit cars.

And Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl said the agency is committed to getting Link light rail to Lynnwood by 2023. Sound Transit engineers are studying whether to follow I-5 or the Highway 99 corridor and will have a decision by next year, she said.

While Sound Transit wants to extend Link to Everett, that effort is “decades away” and will “need a regional discussion” because Sound Transit’s existing funding sources are tapped out, Earl said.

Sound Transit could gain more riders if it had more parking available where people get on the bus or train, Earl said.

“Parking is the pressure point to using transit,” she said. “If you make it easy to access transit, you’ll see an uptick in ridership.”

Kurt Batdorf is editor of the Snohomish County Business Journal.

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