Positive outcome for park and ride funding error | Editorial

Anyone who travels on the ferry has been watching the progress of the Orcas Landing Park and Ride, which is the first of its kind in San Juan County.

But the future of that project was looking bleak when county staff was informed that they would only receive $405,000 of a $760,000 grant because Washington State Transportation Department staff did not properly budget for it. County Council was notified of the situation on Aug. 29 by staff during its regular meeting.

The county has documents that show the grant was to be split between the 2015-17 and 2017-19 bienniums. San Juan County Engineer Colin Huntemer provided Sounder staff with emails from WSDOT staff that approved an extension of the construction – which would logically imply the rollover of a portion of the 15-17 funds into the 17-19 budget. But it appeared that never happened, which we find shocking.

SJC staff received an award letter for the grant from WSDOT in November 2015. The grant agreement was signed in March 2016 and construction started the following spring. The total estimated cost of the project is $1.2 million, and the county has already paid for around $1.1 million with the expectation that WSDOT would be providing reimbursement of $760,000.

The goal of the project is to create an 80-100 stall parking area with reliable short and long-term parking solutions. Currently, vehicles are parked on the side of the main road, causing a serious safety hazard. The facility would also improve traffic circulation in Orcas Village; expand handicapped parking in the current 72-hour parking area at the ferry terminal; and accommodate electric vehicle charging needs.

When Senator Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas, was informed on Aug. 29 of the funding situation, he immediately contacted the transportation secretary for clarification. By Sept. 1, Ranker said a “creative solution” had been found thanks to the work of Councilman Jamie Stephens and the staff of DOT. According to Ranker, San Juan County will be receiving the full amount of the promised grant. Details on where Ranker was able to pull that money from are not available at this time.

However, he said in the future, the county needs to complete its projects more quickly.

We are very relieved that the county will not be left with a massive bill. Thank you to Senator Ranker, the county council and WSDOT for swiftly resolving what could have been a huge disaster.

We are very disturbed about this major miscommunication. How could WSDOT have dropped the ball on such an immense amount of money? That is absolutely unacceptable, and we hope this blunder is a lesson to the staff of WSDOT.