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Feds bestow millions for county projects

Island County will receive a substantial transportation funding boost under the federal Surface Transportation Bill, which is expected to pass the Senate today, but it’s more than $1 million less than what was earmarked under the U.S. House of Representatives’ version.

In all, the bill will provide $4.916 million to projects in Island County. The projects include the Oak Harbor pier, a new county road, a new Island Transit facility and a park-and-ride lot on Camano Island.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray declared the transportation bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, as a victory in their efforts to secure $52 million in funding through 2009 for the Second Congressional District.

“We’ve finally crossed the finish line with this bill in hand, and it’s a huge victory for Northwest transportation priorities,” Rep. Larsen said in a press release.

The bill provides $836,000 for the Oak Harbor municipal pier, which is designed to be a $6.3 million multimodal facility serving a foot ferry, tour boats, seaplanes and recreational craft. The city obtained all the necessary permits this year after seven years of effort.

By next April, the pier will be designed, engineered and ready to be built. The only thing standing in the way is money.

Originally, $1 million was designated for the pier in the House’s version of the bill, but the amount was pared down in negotiations with the Senate.

In Coupeville, Island Transit’s aging facility got a giant boost from the federal government. The transportation bill provides $2 million to replace the inadequate and failing operations center.

In Greenbank, Island County’s somewhat-controversial plans to build a new road was backed by bucks from the federal government. The bill earmarks $960,000 to build a new county road parallel to Highway 525, between Race and Houston roads. Critics say it will just open more land to development.

Currently, that 1.3-mile stretch of highway is a potential choke point on the island. No route exists to pass through that area if the highway is closed.

A project to finish the improvements at the Terry’s Corner Park and Ride on Camano Island would receive $1.12 million as well.

In Snohomish County, the bill will provide $4.85 million to help complete the multimodal facility that will create a transportation hub for ferry, bus, rail and car passengers. About 4.2 million passengers and 2.3 million vehicles pass through the facility each year.

SAFETEA-LU increases annual ferry funding from $38 million in fiscal year 2005 to $67 million in fiscal year 2009.

You can reach Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or 675-6611.

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