State to give Edmonds $500K for waterfront traffic study

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers are ready to help the city of Edmonds curb the frequent traffic back-ups on the waterfront caused by all the trains traveling through town.

On Wednesday, the state House approved a new two-year transportation budget that gives the city $500,000 to conduct a study on ways of solving the problem.

The budget passed on a 74-20 vote and was sent to the Senate, where it is expected to be approved on Thursday, the final day of a special session of the Legislature.

“We know we have a problem and there are a lot of ideas out there for a solution,” said Rep. Strom Peterson, D-Edmonds, a former Edmonds City Council member. “We don’t know what’s feasible. This study will give us an idea of what we’ll be able to do on this significant transportation corridor.”

While Edmonds sought $1.2 million, Peterson said, the $500,000 will be enough to produce a report about options.

The broader measure the House adopted Wednesday is not the much-discussed multibillion-dollar package of new statewide transportation projects to be paid for with a gas tax increase. Rather, it is the budget which directs spending in the next biennium of money already being collected from gas taxes and assorted fees, such as vehicle registration.

Those dollars pay for operations of the Washington State Patrol, Washington State Ferries and the departments of Licensing and Transportation, including the salaries of most of their employees.

For the most part, the budget only continues existing operations of those agencies and assures there are no hiccups with ongoing projects.

There are a few new items, including roughly $470,000 for Island Transit to restart a popular route from Camano Island to Stanwood and downtown Everett. Island Transit will only receive the money if it makes riders pay a fare, which it does not currently do.

The budget also lays the groundwork for a 2.5 percent increase in ferry fares this fall and again next fall. The Washington State Transportation Commission will hold hearings to decide the amount and timing.

Securing money for the Edmonds study culminates more than two years of effort by city officials and state representatives.

The state dollars will be combined with $100,000 from the city and $25,000 from the Port of Edmonds to pay for an analysis of alternatives to improve traffic flow to and from the waterfront, which includes the busy Edmonds-Kingston ferry dock. A preliminary report to the House and Senate transportation committees and governor’s budget office is due Dec. 1.

The focus will be on a single-tracked stretch of rail between Point Wells and north of downtown Edmonds. About 40 trains go through the city each day, each time shutting down access to the waterfront via Main and Dayton streets. The delays add up to about two hours per day, according to city officials.

If a train breaks down in the area, which happens occasionally, it can leave people stranded on either side of the tracks for an hour or more and keep emergency vehicles from getting into the area, city officials say. The senior center is west of the tracks.

The state has a stake in the problem, too. State Highway 104 leads to the ferry dock.

“It’s a huge public safety issue,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, who serves on the House Transportation Committee and worked to ensure the study didn’t get axed in negotiations with the Senate on the final version of the budget.

“We are so grateful it is in,” she said. “It’ll get the ball rolling.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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