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Money needed for Island Transit facility

With approximately 100 employees and only one toilet, Island Transit outgrew its current facility a long time ago.

Officials have long been planning to expand and a milestone of sorts was reached Nov. 16 when the Island Transit Board approved conceptual construction designs. Next, they have to address funding.

“The only problem now is that we don’t have any construction money for it,” said Martha Rose, executive director for Island Transit.

Island Transit is searching for grant money through the Federal Transit Administration to pay for the new buildings. Officials also budgeted the construction in next year’s budget, even though there isn’t any guarantee Island Transit will receive funding. Rose said the money has to be budgeted in order to prove Island Transit has a need for money should any grant opportunities arise in 2008.

The transit agency has proved adept at landing federal dollars in the past, but Uncle Sam’s pursestrings are tightening. “It’s just real difficult out there right now,” Rose said of trying to get federal grants to fund construction projects.

The plans the transit board approved call for the construction of two buildings, one for administration and the other for maintenance facilities. The new buildings will be located on Island Transit’s current property and will provide nearly seven times the space of the current 6,000-square-foot facility. Rose said the new administration building will be approximately 15,000 feet in size and the maintenance facility will be 25,000 square feet in size.

The maintenance area is in dire need of expansion. Island Transit has been in its current facility since 1988. Since that time, maintenance workers have become squeezed for space as the number of buses grows. Currently there are two maintenance bays for approximately 100 buses that operate on both Whidbey and Camano islands.

“It’s a tap dance those guys do out there,” Rose said of the mechanics’ heroic efforts to maintain the fleet.

Rose highlighted the nativist theme of the new construction. The buildings and the parking lot for Island Transit’s fleet will be screened by indigenous trees. That is important because Island Transit’s headquarters is near the entrance to Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve.

“We want it to be real complementary to the prairie,” Rose said.

Bob Clay, Island Transit board member, said during a recent public hearing that he was concerned about how the expansion would be affected by the state Department of Transportation’s plans to realign Parker Road with Highway 20.

Rose said that she has met with transportation officials to talk about coordinating the project. She hopes the eventual work on Parker Road would be similar to work done at the nearby Patmore Road.

While Island Transit looks for money to pay for the major facilities expansion, officials are also celebrating the completion of a smaller project. Island Transit is holding an open house next week at its new Camano Island base facility. The open house takes place Tuesday, Nov. 27, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

The 2,000-square-foot facility is located next to the county annex and provides a dispatch center for Camano Island routes and a place to store buses. That project cost Island Transit approximately $2 million to complete.

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