Passenger rail figures big in county's transit future

Jun 8, 2011

Snohomish County Business Journal

By Kurt Batdorf

June 8, 2011

EVERETT — If Snohomish County is going to grow and accommodate more people getting between Point A and B, it's going to need to invest in rail transportation options, panelists at a commuter rail summit said.


Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon held the forum Tuesday morning as a way to develop a strategy to include innovative rail elements in the county's evolving multimodal transportation network.


Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., gave opening remarks to the dozens of elected officials and transportation experts who gathered at the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Comcast Arena. For Larsen, it boils down to political leaders in the other Washington finding a way out of the blame game over which president is responsible for the country's current economic predicament.


“Blame doesn't create a job,” Larsen said. “The fact is investing creates jobs. Investing in transportation creates jobs.”


Larsen's office has been focusing its efforts on directing federal money to the 2nd Congressional District to improve the region's rail system. Washington state received $590 million in a first round of federal railroad infrastructure spending, then got another $160 million after three states rejected the funding.


“If Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida don't want the money, we'll take the money,” he said.


As for Snohomish County's transportation future, rail figures prominently in Reardon's vision using existing rail lines while Sound Transit extends its Link light-rail line from the University of Washington to Lynnwood by 2023. 


County public works director Steve Thomsen said there's been study of adding commuter rail service between Snohomish and Everett on the existing Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway line to get suburban workers in the east to the county's job centers in the west.


Heading south from Snohomish is a rail spur that goes to Woodinville that could be put to use as a commuter rail line to the Bellevue area rather than expanding vehicle capacity on Highway 9 and Highway 522, he said.


The Cascadia Center and TMJ Group are studying the feasibility augmenting Amtrak service between Everett and Bellingham with two trips daily using self-propelled diesel multiple unit cars.


And Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl said the agency is committed to getting Link light rail to Lynnwood by 2023. Sound Transit engineers are studying whether to follow I-5 or the Highway 99 corridor and will have a decision by next year, she said.


While Sound Transit wants to extend Link to Everett, that effort is “decades away” and will “need a regional discussion” because Sound Transit's existing funding sources are tapped out, Earl said.


Sound Transit could gain more riders if it had more parking available where people get on the bus or train, Earl said.


“Parking is the pressure point to using transit,” she said. “If you make it easy to access transit, you'll see an uptick in ridership.”


One visitor asked the panel how they were going to make themselves look like a coalition that doesn't like cars.


“People do choose to live where the bus doesn't go, and that's OK,” said Tom Hingson of the city of Everett. “It's not a war against cars. They (people) need more choices.”