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Tuesday, July 14, 2020

WTA to temporarily move campus bus stop, address future of park and ride

By Kayna Dean

The Whatcom Transportation Authority Board met to discuss the Lincoln Creek Park & Ride and protocol for buses going through campus while construction on the Viking Union continues.

WTA is concerned about the construction beginning on the Viking Union. Pete Stark, general manager for WTA, said Western originally planned to begin construction in June, but accelerated the project to begin in February.

With this construction comes increased traffic on High Street, as well as construction debris like fencing. Stark says the WTA is putting safety at the top of their radar with the help of University Police.

Starting Monday, Feb. 26, WTA will move the bus stop from in front of the Viking Union to a temporary stop closer to the Performing Arts Center. Service delays are expected as a result from the congestion, so students are advised to catch an earlier bus than they would normally take.

The stop will stay by the Performing Arts Center through the duration of the construction, which is estimated to be about a year and a half. Maureen McCarthy, WTA’s community relations and marketing manager, said the Performing Arts Center bus stop will be split into two different zones. The Orange Zone is for riders catching Route 190 or the 190 Shuttle, and the Teal Zone is for riders catching all other routes going through Western. McCarthy said there are no plans to change the Haggard Hall bus stop.

WTA has been working with Western on what to do with the Lincoln Creek site for the past 10 years, Stark said. About a year ago, Western wanted to develop the area to provide more parking for students.

WTA and the City of Bellingham suggested holding off for a little while longer and looking into ideas that could turn the area into more than just another parking lot.

Stark said the buses haul about 800 passengers out of the approximately 400-car lot. In the past year, WTA and the city came up with the idea of adding a bus station to the Lincoln Creek site rather than more parking.

“They [Western] are planning on growing the university by about 300 students a year,” Stark said. “In their long term plan, this is an important site. For us to be able to move hundreds of people out of there safely, efficiently and reliably is our number one concern.”

Buses having to make left turns across traffic to get into the lot is also a cause for concern. Stark said the bus station design includes a traffic light to allow bus mobility to be safer and easier for both passengers and the drivers.

Western has a $7 million budget to develop the site and add a traffic light to the area, according to their original plan.

In order to go along with the City and WTA’s proposal, Western is asking for assistance from WTA and the state.

A letter of interest is being drafted to apply for the Regional Mobility Grant by March 1. This grant supports local efforts to reduce roadway congestion and increase traffic mobility.

If the project doesn’t receive the grant, Stark said Western could apply for a low-interest loan that can be paid back to the state with 15 years worth of parking fees.

Outside of grants and loans, Stark said the state wants assurance that the site is going to be a park and ride for 25 years. Western plans to have the project designed this year, and construction beginning next year.

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