Study to look at Valley transportation needs

NORTH BEND — Recent cuts to county-funded buses and vans

have created a challenge for those needing public transportation to move

about the Valley. But a proposal in the works could provide shuttle service to

residents who need it, making it easier for them to get to work or the local

grocery store.

Ruth Tolmasoff believes the need is there. The director of the Mount

Si Senior Center in North Bend has witnessed ridership increase on

the center's bus, and more and more people are calling to take

advantage of her facility's driver program, where volunteers transport seniors to

doctor's appointments, and then take them back home.

Those increases came after King County officials reduced the

number of Metro buses running in the Valley. The county's ACCESS

program, which provides rides to seniors and disabled residents, has been

scaled back, as well. Tolmasoff said those cuts were based on the relatively

low number of riders using public transportation here when compared to

other cities in the county, and continuing service is limited because portions of

the Upper Valley are designated as rural under the county's urban

growth boundary.

"Transportation has always been an issue for the seniors in this

community," she said.

But it's not just seniors who have felt the effects of a shrinking

access to public transportation in the Upper Valley, she said. Low-income

families are dependent on the system, as are disabled residents who can't drive

on their own. Children are now more dependent on parents to chauffeur

them to social activities, athletic-team practice or to simply visit a friend.

Tolmasoff is working with officials from Hopelink and United Way

of King County to fund a transportation study to determine whether

Upper Valley residents would support a small shuttle service that would be

available to people of all ages. The three organizations created the Upper

Valley Transportation Project and are now looking for about 25 volunteers

to serve on a steering committee that would provide input on the study

and discuss its findings.

The steering committee would include members of citizens

groups, non-profit human-service providers, city employees, elected officials

and representatives from business and education. A meeting will be held

from 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 19, for those wishing to join the steering

committee or learn more about the project.

Doug Whalen, East County community affairs manager for the

United Way of King County, said funding for the study would likely come in

the form of a Venture Funding Grant from the United Way's East

Community Council.

Whalen said through the venture funding grant, the East

Community Council tries to help communities solve problems locally through

what it calls "community building."

"If transportation is a barrier, we want to help that local community

access that barrier," he said.

He expects the council to vote on the funding in the coming

weeks, which would pave the way for starting the study.

"Once the award is ready, then Hopelink will begin the work to

coordinate the study," he said, adding it would take about two months to

complete it.

Officials are pushing to finish the study by February or March of

2001, which would allow them to use the data to apply for a Washington

State Rural Mobility Grant. If approved by the state, the grant would fund

the shuttle service that would be run by Hopelink. The non-profit

organization, formerly known as Multi-Service Center of North and East King

County, helps hungry and homeless families, as well as seniors and disabled

residents. It created a similar shuttle service in Skykomish.

Tolmasoff said the steering committee would help decide "what

kind of hours [the shuttle service] would work, where it would need to run."

A second will be held in February or March to go over the study's findings.

Hopelink would then draft a grant proposal and submit it to the

state, which would determine whether to fund the proposal by next summer.

If approved, shuttle service would begin the following year. It would

primarily focus on North Bend and Snoqualmie, but it could extend to Fall City

and Preston if the need is evident.

"This could really provide us with better transportation — at least

another option for transportation that we didn't have before," Tolmasoff said.

To attend the meeting on Dec. 19, or to receive more

information, call Ruth Tolmasoff at 888-3434.

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