Council receives update from Community Transit; learns Tour de Terrace likely to return this summer

Staff from Community Transit provided an update to the Mountlake Terrace City Council at its regular business meeting Monday night.

The Mountlake Terrace City Council at its March 7 regular business meeting received an update from Community Transit and also learned that the Tour de Terrace festival is likely to return this summer.

Community Transit CEO Ric Ilgenfritz said that the agency will focus the following priorities: returning ridership to pre-pandemic levels and rider safety, regional integration efforts including development of the Swift Orange Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, network planning for 2024, exploring service innovations, a zero-emissions fleet study and engaging in long-term planning.

The Sound Transit Lynnwood Link light rail extension, which is scheduled to begin service in 2024, will allow Community Transit to redesign some of its approaches to providing transit services. Ilgenfritz said the agency’s express bus service to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington will be pulled back as the “Lynnwood link comes up the corridor,” and Community Transit will then “reinvest those hours into a more robust local network within Snohomish County.”

“That’s really a generational opportunity for a transit agency like ours and we’re really excited to see what might be possible,” he added, noting that the agency is currently engaged “in the hard work and the detailed work of visioning that updated network in the county.” Besides connecting buses with light rail services, Community Transit will expand access to its own frequent service lines and focus on how to provide more equitable opportunities for people to ride public transportation, he said.

Community Transit is using that process to “think differently about how we engage customers and new riders into the system,” Ilgenfritz said.

Agency Director of Planning and Development Roland Behee said, “It would be hard to overstate the impact that the arrival of Lynnwood Link is going to have on transportation in the county in 2024.” He added, “Every four minutes there’s going to be a train out of Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, North Shoreline,” which –unlike express buses — won’t be subject to the whims of traffic conditions along I-5 that can affect travel times to and from Seattle.

That consistent level of speed, reliability and mobility provided by Sound Transit’s light rail will allow Community Transit to then “take the investment we’ve had in that corridor over many years and to reinvest it onto local streets in Snohomish County,” Behee said. That will provide residents with a greater level of access and reduced wait times not only along the I-5 corridor but also between important regional destinations within Snohomish County, he added.

Expanding the agency’s frequent-service Swift Lines will play an important part in that goal, he said. The Swift Blue Line will be extended to the 185th Street Light Rail Station in Shoreline, and the agency will also add a Swift Orange Line to connect Edmonds College with Mill Creek via the Lynnwood light rail station. The new route will provide riders with access to the Mill Creek Town Center, Alderwood Mall, Lynnwood City Center, and Edmonds College, while serving park and rides at McCollum Park, Ash Way, Swamp Creek, and Lynnwood. Both projects are anticipated to be completed in 2024 and “will provide that direct connection between Snohomish County’s frequent high-capacity transit network and the first extension of light rail into North King and into Snohomish County,” Behee said.

Mountlake Terrace can expect to see “substantial improvements to the frequency of service on some of your primary arterial corridors, roads like 236th Street, with a high level of east-west connectivity,”Behee said, including the Swift Blue Line and into Edmonds. Riders along other main transit corridors such as 44th and 56th Avenues West will also benefit from increased service frequencies. In addition, the agency will add some new express route connections to the Mountlake Terrace light rail station and there will also be direct service from throughout the city, allowing riders to access either it or the Lynnwood light rail station depending on their preferred location.

Rendering of Mountlake Terrace light rail station

The agency will begin exploring innovations such as a type of on-demand transit service with flexible stops and destinations within specified areas to see if that model could possibly be scaled to individual cities. Ilgenfritz said the agency will soon launch a pilot project in Lynnwood “where we’ll be using a shuttle bus vehicle and an online app, which you can access through your phone, and basically summon a transit vehicle that will take you to the train station or to the mall or to a Swift Line.” He anticipated riders “won’t have to wait more than 10 or 15 minutes tops for that service to meet you where you are.”

Ilgenfritz noted, “That’s really significant, you know for decades, probably over a century, the transit model in this country and in the world has been we put out service, we build stations, we build bus stops and we assume our customers are going to come to us. We’re thinking differently about that now, we’re trying to figure out if there’s a way for us to go get riders and bring them into the system and make it an easier and more convenient choice.”

It will then utilize the pilot program to learn about offering and operating such a service with an eye on possibly expanding it to other communities in the future. Regarding “our development of on-demand service and micro-transit,” Behee said, “Mountlake Terrace and the areas around the station is another of those opportunities that we see in the future in terms of potential for fulfilling first-and-last-mile connectivity.”

Community Transit is pursuing “a deep dive into zero-emission vehicle technology,” Ilgenfritz said. He noted that there will be significant grants available for transit agencies to begin converting their fleets to electric vehicles. “So we are engaged in the process right now of studying how to make that work in our context,” he added. “We have a very diverse county: urban, suburban, rural, we have very long routes, so we are doing the hard work now to put ourselves into position to be able to begin that transition and bring those vehicles and technology into our service.”

The agency is also looking at updates to its long-term plans. “We’re all struggling with a lot of the same issues — growth, affordability, quality of life, climate,” Ilgenfritz said. “The Puget Sound Regional Council has extended its regional growth and transportation plans out to 2050 and so we are starting the process of aligning our long-range plan to respond to that.”

The Journey 2050 – Long Range Plan will help guide the agency’s vision and priorities for the years 2025-2050 in order to meet the region’s growing population and public transportation needs. Development of the plan will prioritize providing equity in access to opportunities and services for priority populations, balancing operational efficiency with serving as many communities across Snohomish County as possible, and the environment through reducing transportation greenhouse gas emissions by converting car trips to transit rides and planning for a zero-emissions fleet.

The agency has utilized community outreach efforts to help inform development of the plan.

Another round of public engagement is planned for this summer, with the final plan expected to be presented to the board of directors in December. Implementation would then begin next year so as to be ready for the arrival of light rail service to Snohomish County in 2024.

Councilmembers said they appreciated that Community Transit is proactively adjusting its services and resources to prepare for the transition that will occur with the arrival of light rail service to the area. Several also noted they are excited there will be an increased frequency of services and connectivity to Mountlake Terrace.

In other business, City Manager Scott Hugill informed the council that the Tour de Terrace festival is likely to return in summer 2022. “Anticipating a continuing decline in COVID, Tour de Terrace will be going forward this summer a week earlier than in the past,” he said. “We’ll keep you informed as we move on.” City staff has been meeting with the event’s organizers in order to help determine all of the logistics involved with putting on the three-day festival, which would be held July 22-24.

In other business, the council learned that AT&T, which is the last tenant on the city’s 135-foot water tank at Jack Long Park, will soon begin work to remove their antennas from the structure. After the removal is completed, Public Works will then begin seeking bids to perform needed maintenance work on the water tank. Hugill told councilmembers, “We will also start the process of having you all select colors or something for the water towers to be painted.”

He noted that the water tower’s current color was selected by the city council in the early 1980s, adding, “So if you’d like to keep it you certainly can, but we want to ask the question because the last time we painted it the same color the question came up.” A 190-foot telecommunications tower for antennas and related equipment was constructed next to the water tank last fall.

Hugill also said that all permits have now been approved for Building #3 at the Terrace Station mixed-use development project, “so you should see construction begin there soon with anticipated completion in the fall of 2023.”

— By Nathan Blackwell

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