Commissioners decline federal funds for trail

Federal funding for a proposed trail from the Clinton business district to Ken’s Korner will be declined at the request of two of the three Island County commissioners.

Grant funding was allocated to begin engineering and design for the separated, multi-use trail next year.

However, during recent meetings, two commissioners said they felt other projects should be pursued instead.

The project, part of the county’s six-year non-motorized trail plan, is still in the overall plan, but no action will be taken at this time.

“I chose to support investments in trails that will move the greatest number of people at the lowest possible cost,” Commissioner Jill Johnson said later in an email.

“Given that we have two other improvement projects planned for the Clinton area, it is also important that we provide services to citizens throughout Island County.”

Johnson’s seat represents the Oak Harbor and Central Whidbey area.

During the meeting, Commissioner Rick Hannold said he agrees that projects should be prioritized by how many people are using them. Hannold represents Camano Island and North Whidbey.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, whose district encompasses South Whidbey, said she believes the project would serve a large number of people.

In an emailed statement, she cited the fact that the Clinton-Mukilteo route carries the most vehicles in the Washington state ferry system.

“Every weekday, the Clinton Park ‘n Ride overflows, and the Clinton commuter bus has the most riders in the Island Transit system,” she said in her email.

“A Clinton-Kens Korner trail would be a smart local infrastructure investment for all these reasons.”

The project has been in the long-term plan for approximately two years, said Public Works Director Bill Oakes.

It was proposed as part of a larger goal to create a trail system within the county that connects the Clinton ferry to Deception Pass Bridge.

Johnson previously expressed skepticism about the feasibility of this “bridge-to-boat” concept, especially because many of the connections are on different sides of the highway.

“Last year, I discouraged putting the Ferry-to-Ken’s Korner trail in the plan because I had several unanswered questions, including what our plans for a bridge-to-ferry trail route actually is, and why we continue to make million-dollar trail investments that don’t connect to each other and that are on opposite sides of the highway,” Johnson said.

“I wanted to understand the estimated utilization of that trail for that level of financial investment.

“Those questions are still not answered.”

Two years ago, the project was awarded $750,000 from the federal Surface Transportation Block Grant program and another $225,000 from a transportation enhancement grant, Oakes said.

These funds will be declined and staff from public works are working to apply instead for grants for three different projects.

One is a trail from a park and ride near Liberty Grocery that would go along the highway to Oak Harbor city limits, with the idea of connecting Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the city.

Another is a loop around Bos Lake using both existing shoulders with side paths and soft-surface trails near Swantown Road from Fairway lane.

The third project would connect the north end of the paved Kettles Trail to Fort Ebey State Park, using shoulders along Hill Valley Road from Libbey Road to the park.

Transportation Planner Brian Wood said these three projects together would create greater connectivity between trails from the North End to Central Whidbey.

”It’s thinking more about connections than perhaps we have in the past,” he said.

Price Johnson said she is “disappointed” the Clinton trail project won’t be moving forward, but said she will support the new proposals.

Information about the non-motorized trails plan can be found on the Parks and Trails page of the Island County Public Works website.

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