Traffic, homelessness remain a focus for Marysville in 2016

MARYSVILLE — Mayor Jon Nehring would have enough on his plate in his second full term even if he also didn’t have to deal with one of the biggest traffic chokepoints in the county.

Marysville, population 64,000 and still growing, will celebrate its 125th anniversary this year, and its downtown street layout is still reminiscent of a classic pioneer railroad town.

These days, railroads and growing suburbs are a bad mix. Marysville is dotted with more than a dozen at-grade crossings, each of which comes to a standstill when mile-long freight trains rumble through town.

With freight traffic only expected to increase with growing exports of coal and oil out of West Coast terminals, Marysville has a lot riding on a new interchange south of town that will allow northbound traffic to exit onto Highway 529 and head into downtown without crossing the tracks.

The city’s lobbying in Olympia paid off last year. The project, estimated to cost $42 million to $45 million, was included in the transportation package approved by the Legislature.

The proposal would also entail turning First Street into a bypass to get people to Sunnyside and other points east without clogging up downtown. The plan calls for the new interchange to be complete by 2023, with the money coming in over successive years starting in 2017.

“We’re essentially shovel-ready,” Nehring said.

That bit of good news was a highlight to 2015, and looking forward to 2016, there are a number of issues on the city’s radar that are demanding attention.

The city of Everett spearheaded its Streets Initiative a year and a half ago to try and get a handle on homelessness and associated problems.

That’s now become a full-bore charge to build housing based on the Housing First model. A series of public events has been keeping the public informed.

At the same time, Marysville has been undertaking its own experiment in dealing with chronic homelessness, anchored in the city’s many churches and faith groups.

The city has now identified a house it owns near 57th Avenue NE and Highway 528 that is going to be converted into a temporary residence for about three people who have been through treatment programs.

Nehring pointed to comments Gov. Jay Inslee made at a housing forum in Everett on Feb. 1 on what people needed. “They need a house, they need a job, they need a friend,” Inslee said.

“The friend piece is the part we often miss,” Nehring said, and that’s where churches can step in to give the formerly homeless people soon to move in the support network they need to rebuild their lives.

“If it works, the thought is that individual churches or the faith community as a whole would purchase a house or a few houses” in coming years, Nehring said.

“We’ll need this land for a project in the next couple of years, but in the meantime it’s an empty house,” he said.

Nehring has also been working with Arlington Mayor Barbara Tolbert to get the Puget Sound Regional Council to designate the industrial area straddling the two cities a Manufacturing Industrial Corridor. The designation will allow both cities to obtain additional funds to invest in roads, utilities and technology infrastructure in the area.

In 2015, the Legislature passed and Gov. Inslee signed a bill that will allow businesses in the area that create more than 25 family-wage jobs to be exempt from city property taxes and a portion of their state taxes.

Nehring said that he’s been talking with the Snohomish County Council to get some county taxes included in that exemption.

Making that an attractive area for business investment is crucial with a growing population and more companies looking to invest in the area.

Marysville issued 818 new business licenses in 2015, Nehring said, and there is still capacity for more population growth in the city.

The Puget Sound Regional Council estimated the city’s population will grow to 87,357 by 2040.

“As we look at job growth in the area, and the relative cost of living, a lot of people are looking at Snohomish County, and north Snohomish County in particular,” he said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

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