CT considering Smokey Point Transit Center

ARLINGTON Community Transit has received NEPA approval from the Federal Transportation Administration to pursue a proposed transit center at 169th Street and Smokey Point Boulevard. The National Environmental Policy Act requires that the first step in any federally funded project is a review of potential environmental impacts.
Now that we have this approval, we will start negotiations with the property owner, said CTs director of public affairs, Todd Morrow. And we will also continue to pursue funding.
After reviewing 18 potential locations in north Snohomish County, CT selected last year an empty lot directly south of Safeway at 169th Street on Smokey Point Boulevard for the proposed new north Snohomish County transit center.
Its more of a transit center than a park-and-ride because it is a hub for all the routes to intersect, said CTs public information specialist, Tom Pierce.
It would offer four commuter runs to Seattle twice a day, Pierce said. Of course that number would increase as the need increases.
It would take 40 - 60 cars off the roads each morning and night, said Morrow.
Local business and property owners are not so excited about the idea, however.
Becky Foster, of Bruce & Beckys Interiors, who said she is speaking on behalf of the TRAP group which fought for the overpass at 172nd Street, said she is concerned that the transit center would increase traffic on the already clogged intersection as well as the overpass.
Maryann Monty, who has developed the property directly south of the proposed transit center and Hawthorn Inn across Smokey Point Boulevard, has expressed concern through letters to the editor about traffic and the overflow of parking filling her own parking areas.
Foster and Monty, both board members of the Arlington-Smokey Point Chamber of Commerce, sought support from the chamber to oppose the project, offering their own preferred site. Chamber president David Boulton agreed that CTs preferred location would negatively impact traffic in the already clogged intersection.
It will be a challenge getting the buses right onto Smokey Point Boulevard and then left onto 172nd Street to get to the freeway, Boulton said.
Boulton also expressed concern about removing a key five acres from the citys tax roles, since public entities dont pay taxes.
We dont want to see the heart of the Smokey Point business community turned into a parking lot, Boulton said.
We need a site that is not in the center of the business community. Why would the city want to give up to a nonprofit 10 acres in the heart of the business district? Foster questioned.
Moving the transit center south would give the buses the option to go on and off the freeway at 116th or 172nd, Boulton said.
Boulton, Foster and chamber vice president Jim Lonneker, of North County Bank, all met with Marysville Mayor Dennis Kendall Friday, July 27 to seek his support for their preferred site farther south, at 164th Street, within Marysvilles city limits.
As vice chair of the CT board of directors, Kendall was well aware of both proposals.
I know that CT staff strongly preferred the Smokey Point site as most cost effective, Kendall said.
Pierce said that CT chose the site because of its proximity to I-5.
Every minute counts, he said. A bus that goes even a mile out of its way is costing the tax-payers a lot of money. Being a public entity we have to make good use of taxpayers dollars.
CT officials presented its preferred site to Arlington City Council in September 2006, and to the public in a workshop at the Stillaguamish Senior Center later in the fall.
The proposed transit center would be comprised of just over 10 acres with five acres dedicated to parking for 360 vehicles. Since the site is larger than the 360 parking places needed to serve north Snohomish County as a park-and-ride at this point in time, CT has proposed contracting out the development of the other half of the property with commercial development to serve the needs of the transit users as well as the surrounding community.
We want to be a benefit to the businesses and the residents as well as the bus riders, Morrow said.
An Arlington City Council member, Graham Smith represents north Snohomish County on CTs board of directors.
Its the wave of the future to have services located at a transit center, said Smith, who just recently attended a national conference on transit and homeland security in Virginia.
I also sat in on a session about alternative services to enhance transit, Graham said.
While Pierce prefers not to say what the potential options are because they may or may not happen, Smith shared some ideas from the conference.
The latest thing for transit centers is concierge services and child care, Graham said. So people can drop off their car and kids at the same time, as well as their laundry, Smith explained that a concierge service would do all kinds of tasks for commuters, including having dinner ready to pick up on their way home.
Smith admits that the site has pros and cons.
I do have mixed emotions about the proposal, Graham said. If they go through with this and purchase that property it will be a large piece of land off the citys tax roles, he agreed with the critics.
However, he also believes that the transit center could have a positive impact, serving as a hub, bringing business to Arlington.
Based on the information I have, I believe that the transit center could be good for Arlington and its residents. With ridership increasing rapidly these days, the bus riders would bring extra tax dollars to Smokey Point and it could help reduce traffic on the overpass as well as I-5.
Foster and Boulton will continue to pursue their alternative proposal.
Putting the transit center at 164th Street would be a great match with our proposed ball fields in the adjacent property, Foster said.
We think this park should be a joint project between Marysville and Arlington. They have been milking the cash cow for a long time now and they need to feed the grain bucket, Foster said.
We have fought so long to keep traffic moving in Smokey Point and this transit center would offer further intrusion in an already difficult situation, she added.
Pierce said that clogging at the intersection would not be an issue because the schedule distributes their departure times to provide more options for the riders.
They wont all come in and out of there at the same time, he said. They would depart about every 15 minutes. We believe the transit center would contribute to an improved livability in north county. As population grows, the community will appreciate a good transit system. Its also about safety, Pierce said.
After we had to close the former transit center when the overpass was built, now we have bus riders crossing the street mid block. Its very dangerous. An inside transit center would be much safer.
The proposed transit center at this point shows no rear access, but Pierce said they certainly could look into that.
Both Smith and Kendall suggested that the transit center could contribute to the completion of the clover-leaf overpass at 172nd.
The thing that I am excited about is this is the first of its kind for CT, a transit development that makes commuting more appealing. By providing services at the transit center, it keeps people out of their cars. Commuters can hop off one bus, grab their kids, then hop on another bus to go home. With a complimentary evening use such as a movie complex, it would make good use of the parking lot after the commute, Smith said.
I just want to see a traffic study from Community Transit as well as the details on how the retail center will be taxed, Foster said.

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