Transportation planning group on tap -Federal government wants cities to form new panel

Skagit Valley Herald

Skagit County is about to get one more layer of bureaucracy.

The population cluster in and around Burlington, Mount Vernon and Sedro-Woolley has grown large enough that the federal government is demanding creation of a Metropolitan Planning Organization to handle regional transportation planning.

Actually, the area’s governments have a choice. They can opt not to create a planning body — but then they would forfeit the use of federal money for transportation projects within the area.

But at a formation meeting Wednesday morning, Mount Vernon Mayor Skye Richendrfer said that’s not much of an option. He estimated that $23 million to $25 million of federal money is being used for current projects in Mount Vernon, including $18 million for the Skagit River bridge replacement.

In addition to the three cities, the organization includes Skagit County and SKAT.

In Wednesday’s discussion, participants favored having Mount Vernon as the organization’s lead agency. The city could provide the space for the organization’s staff.

Once created, the organization will probably only hire two people — either an executive director and a traffic planner, or two planners. The cost would be split between all the members.

The Mount Vernon Census Urban Area, as the federal government calls it, has a population of 51,174. The territory includes most of the three cities, plus the area west of Mount Vernon to Bay View Ridge, the area between Burlington and Sedro-Woolley, and a narrow strip south along Highway 9 from Mount Vernon to Big Lake.

Because the federal government uses census tracts to define urban areas, the boundaries don’t follow city limit lines.

The group will meet again in late August to discuss formation of the organization.

n James Geluso can be reached at 360-416-2146 or by e-mail:

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