Transportation bucks clear House

Island County could soon receive a boost from the federal government for transportation funding.

The U.S. House of Representatives Thursday passed a version of the Transportation Equity Act, a package of $284 billion spread out over six years for funding of nationwide transportation projects.

The bill must now pass the Senate before going to President George W. Bush for approval.

“This bill lays out the framework for the next six years of federal transportation funding,” Rep. Rick Larsen said in a written statement. “As a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, I will keep pushing to make sure that the final version of this critical bill includes Island County transportation priorities.” 

Under the bill, projects in Island County will receive $6 million in funding for four different projects.

In Oak Harbor, the new multimodal facility, which will incorporate passenger ferries, sea planes and pleasure craft into a new pier, will receive $1 million under the proposed bill.

Oak Harbor Harbormaster Dave Williams said that the project still needs more than $2 million in additional funding before construction can begin.

“We have enough money in hand to finish permitting and final design and engineering,” Williams said.

The facility would provide a pivotal link between Bellingham and Seattle. It will allow travelers to board a ferry after a bus takes them to Oak Harbor.

“This will be an alternate means to the state highway system,” Williams said. “The primary use would be for passenger ferry service.”

The House bill also incorporates Larsen’s proposal to boost ferry funding. The previous bill authorized $220 million over six years for ferries. If the provision is included in the final version of the bill, it will authorize $430 million for fiscal years 2004 through 2009 for the nation’s ferry systems.

The biggest winner locally would be Island Transit. Under the proposed bill, it would receive $2.4 million toward replacing the operations facility in Coupeville.

The bill would also allow a project on Central Whidbey to get off the ground. On Highway 525, between Race and Houston roads, no route exists to pass if the highway closes.

“That has been a potential choke point in the county for years and years,” Island County Engineer Dick Snyder said.

He said that the last time the 1.3-mile stretch of highway closed was in the early ‘90s when a tree blew down across the road. The county has been trying to get funding for the project for approximately eight years.

“That location is the only place on the island that if something happens and the road is closed, there is no way around it,” Snyder said.

A project to finish the improvements at the Terry’s Corner Park and Ride on Camano Island would receive $1.4 million as well.

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