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Transportation discussion chugs along

POULSBO — Monorails, passenger-only ferries, busses and highways.

Just which of these will be the transportation mode of the future for Little Norway continues to be the debate with the Poulsbo City Council.

Members once again wrestled with the issue at a transportation workshop held at their regular council meeting Jan. 19. While they came to no consensus, Councilman Jeff McGinty commented that he was proud they were even entertaining the discussion.

“Technology is going to continue to change. Options are going to continue to change,” he commented. “At least we’re doing something instead of dealing with the day-to-day crisis.”

The debate started in late 2004 when Port Angeles inventor Karl “Jerry” Lamb expressed interest in building his first LevX monorail-type system from Bainbridge Island to Poulsbo. The idea has sparked fierce debate among council members as to the need for a LevX system and whether or not to pursue it.

But Wednesday night, council members agreed the bigger issue at hand is the future of Poulsbo and what transportation priorities would best meet it.

For Councilman Dale Rudolph, the right priorities have already been studied, planned for and are now in the process of being implemented. He mentioned the State Route 305 project, funding for which was secured in late 2004, which will add high occupancy vehicle and turn lanes between Bond and Hostmark during the summers of 2006 and 2007. Rudolph said the SR 305 Major Investment Study, conducted in the mid-1990s by jurisdictions including Poulsbo and Kitsap Transit, indicated that fixing 305 and adding busses was the best way to deal with moving people for at least 15-20 years. The document received a Puget Sound Regional Council Vision 2020 Award in 1998.

“It seems to me if we’ve found funding (for 305), we’ve solved the problem for 15-20 years,” Rudolph commented. “So it seems to me we should be talking about what to do in 15-20 years, not one to five years.”

Rudolph added that of the cities West of the Rocky Mountains with rapid mass transit systems like LevX, Salt Lake City was the smallest with 900,000 residents. Poulsbo has a population of roughly 7,000 and Rudolph said Salt Lake City’s main thrust for building its system was its winter Olympics.

He suggested that Kitsap County’s population and transit ridership may not warrant LevX and such a system had the potential to double or even triple Poulsbo’s projected growth.

“It’s not going to bring jobs,” Rudolph said of LevX. “It’s going to bring, at no offense to commuters, a transit hub for commuters and I would suggest we should focus our efforts to bring jobs to Poulsbo, not commuters.”

But the idea of a LevX system for Poulsbo has piqued the interest of council members Kathryn Quade and Jim Henry. Though the technology may seem a bit futuristic for Kitsap County, Henry commented that did not mean it was wrong for Kitsap.

“We were trying to look ahead and think of the future,” he commented. “If we said, ‘OK wait 50 years,’ the problem may be so bad that we don’t have the money to solve it. The government offered to pay 80 percent of Seattle’s light rail years ago but they said, ‘No, we want highways’ and now they have to pay 100 percent of their light rail.”

Quade added that if Poulsbo welcomed a LevX system, it would be hosting a global demonstration of the product that had the potential to bring other benefits to Poulsbo. She also pointed out that the SR 305 study is about 10 years old and, since then, jurisdictions have learned new things. She said that Kitsap Transit originally envisioned building out incrementally to eventually offer Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in five to 10 years, but is now considering LevX instead of BRT.

“Are we getting good value for our money to use an interim solution that’s not really solving the problem?” Quade asked. “If we can skip (BRT), aren’t we spending the taxpayers’ money better?”

A handful of community members attended the transportation workshop to express their opinions. Poulsbo resident Ardis Morrow said she applauded Henry and Quade for looking into LevX as a way to solve Poulsbo’s issues.

“If you look at Chicago with their rail system and London with the metro system and Epcot Center with is monorail, these are things that work,” Morrow said. “I’m glad that for once you’re thinking about something different.”

“I want to support and encourage and hope to perhaps participate in some sort of transportation solution other than concrete highways,” added John Taylor, who lives in Silverdale and works in Poulsbo.

But Ralls Clotfelter, who regularly speaks out on transportation issues, said he felt LevX would not solve Kitsap’s root problem — a lack of jobs in Kitsap that necessitates more people commute.

“We need to get industry in here and I can’t imagine a truckload of building materials coming in on a monorail,” Clotfelter commented.

Lamb envisions a LevX system that circles the Puget Sound area and can move both people and freight. Quade said the technology could revolutionize the idea of commuting, free up highways and also save maintenance dollars by taking more vehicles, especially large commercial ones, off the roads.

“It’s a much larger project than what we’re envisioning with this one project,” she explained.

But Councilman Ed Stern pointed out that moving people and goods and service physically seems fundamentally against the investment in the Kitsap fiber optic backbone and telecommuting he has championed. While he applauded Quade and Henry’s initiative, he was troubled by a line in a LevX video that said “Work in Seattle and live in the beautiful Kitsap Peninsula.”

“Monorails aside, that kind of runs away from my idea of telecommunication solutions,” Stern commented.

The transportation discussion will be continued to the council’s retreat, which is scheduled for Feb. 4-5 at City Hall.

Sidebox:

Speak Up

The Poulsbo City Council is asking for input from community members on transportation issues and what priorities the council should pursue in regards to moving people better. Responses can be mailed to P.O. Box 98, Poulsbo, WA 98370. Council member e-mails and other contact information can be viewed at www.cityofpoulsbo.com.

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