Island Transit gets millions

People traveling off the island may soon have a new option.

Island Transit will offer trips to Mount Vernon this September. When in Mount Vernon, riders can also connect to Camano Island and Bellingham.

“It just opens up huge worlds for people in public transit,” said Martha Rose, director of Island Transit.

To offer the new service, transit systems in Island, Skagit, and Whatcom counties received a $2 million grant from the Washington State Department of Transportation to help get it off the ground.

Rose said Island Transit will receive the majority of the grant money because it has the most ground to cover. She said a trip between Whidbey and Camano islands can take an hour and a half to complete.

The drive to improve connections between the three counties stems from a committee that included transportation officials and residents. The group studied ways to improve bus transit, train service and passenger-only ferry service.

Bus riders will be transported to the Skagit Multimodel Station in downtown Mount Vernon. Once at the station, they will be able to travel to Bellingham or to Terry’s Corner on Camano Island. Early plans show eight trips a day from Oak Harbor to Mount Vernon during the week and five trips on Saturday. Rose said the schedule has to be coordinated to accommodate the ferries.

Riders don’t pay a fare on Island Transit buses. However, they will pay a fare when transferring to a Skagit Transit or a Whatcom Transportation Authority bus. Rose said a fare still needs to be negotiated before the service opens on Sept. 6.

To gain input about the schedule and service, Island Transit is holding a series of public meetings in the coming weeks on Whidbey Island and Camano Island. The first meeting takes place Thursday, June 16, 4 p.m., at the Oak Harbor Library, Room 137. The next meeting takes place Tuesday, June 21, 4 p.m., at the Coupeville Recreation Hall. Further meetings are scheduled for July and August.

Island Transit also received money to improve bus transporation on the island.

“We were just real fortunate in this legislative session,” Rose said.

Island Transit received a $2.5 million grant from the WSDOT to develop park and ride lots. Officials are looking at developing smaller park and ride lots in various spots throughout the county. Rose said the new lots would alleviate congestion at the larger lots. She said she hears complaints about double-parked cars at the Clinton park and ride lot.

New park and ride lots would be smaller and jibe with the rural character of the county. Rose said officials are looking at a small lot north of Oak Harbor and are seeing if it’s feasible to put a small lot across from Coupeville Middle and High School. However, there are concerns about congestion to consider before deciding to move forward with that lot, Rose said.

Island Transit received another $2.9 million, spread over the next three years, for vehicle purchases. That money will purchase three 35-foot buses, 50 vans, 15 medium-sized buses and two shuttle vans.

Rose said some the vehicles will help expand services and the remainder replaces older vehicles.

Island Transit’s Paratransit program also benefited from state grants. It also received a $135,000 grant.

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