Transportation is something everyone needs – so what if you were suddenly cut off from getting where you need to go? That’s a very real possibility for those who rely on Lewis Mountain Highway Transit. Operating as a non-profit of the White Pass Coalition and servicing the east end of the county, Lewis Mountain Highway Transit will have to stop operations in 2019 due to a lack of grant funds.
Twin Transit, currently providing public transportation to Centralia and Chehalis, would like to help bridge that gap by expanding services to all parts of Lewis County, if it is asked to do so under the current transportation expansion initiative. “This is a conversation that has been happening for a very long time about a very real need for expansion,” says Derrick Wojcik-Damers, General Manager of Twin Transit.
It may seem like a simple thing, but the expansion process can be complex and there is much at stake. “I want people to understand what is at risk here,” says Wojcik-Damers. The restructuring of a transit boundary can only happen once every two years. “If this doesn’t come to fruition now, it will be two years before we can talk about it again.”
That would leave Lewis Mountain Highway Transit users without a vital lifeline to the Twin Cities where professional services, shopping and medical support are accessible.
In addition, this is an opportunity to expand transit services to areas that haven’t had services in the past, including the west and south ends of the county. The expansion would increase economic activity in the whole area. Currently the Port of Chehalis has job openings that could be filled by individuals from outlying areas. “It would be great to connect these people to jobs,” says Wojcik-Damers.
Doug Hayden has been with Lewis Mountain Highway Transit for twenty years. He’s concerned about those who rely on the bus for access to Centralia College, medical appointments and other transportation including Twin Transit, Amtrak and Greyhound. Even international travelers use the bus service when coming off the Pacific Crest Trail.
Since 1998, Lewis Mountain Highway Transit has had 193,096 riders with an average of 700-800 travelers per month. It currently serves Packwood, Randle, Glenoma, Morton, Mossyrock, Silver Creek, Salkum and Onalaska.
The Board of County Commissioners will discuss this matter in an upcoming public transportation improvement conference at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, April 6. “The purpose of the public transportation improvement conference is to meet with elected representatives from the legislative body of each city within Lewis County to discuss changing the boundaries of the existing public transportation benefit authority,” the conference notice states.
In the Chehalis/Centralia benefit area, there is already a two-tenths of one percent sales tax on all purchases for transit services. If leaders from each town in the new proposed boundary area participate in the transportation improvement conference, they will give their populations a chance to vote on the issue. This will include increasing sales tax by the same two-tenths of one percent. “Lewis Mountain Highway Transit needs to be funded with the sales tax option for more stability,” Hayden says.
The expansion was studied and found to be feasible in 1997 and more recently with the same outcome, but nothing ever came of it. “It’s now or never,” Wojcik-Damers says. “Here we are again, but with more understanding of why transit services are so important. The entirety of Lewis County could be represented by transit services – this is where we begin.”
It’s important to note that this investment in services applies to sales tax and not property taxes. “We can’t have a bus for free, like the roads,” says Wojcik-Damers. “Often people are already paying the two-tenths of one percent sales tax every time they go to town for shopping. If there is no funding in place, people’s lifeline to services will go away.”
Hayden wants to help those who depend on Lewis Mountain Highway Transit. “It would make people struggle [to lose service],” he says. “They wouldn’t be able to do what they needed to do. Everybody is already supporting Twin Transit services and this would allow better access.”
Twin Transit is the obvious solution to the gap in services issue, especially on the east end of the county. Expanding transportation options to all of Lewis County will help those who are often without access to needed amenities and employment.
Hayden and Wojcik-Damers hope town leaders will step up and attend the meeting with the Board of County Commissioners on April 6. The people of Lewis County deserve a chance to vote on this important matter.
The Board of County Commissioners Transportation Improvement Conference will be held in the Commissioner’s Hearing Room at 351 N.W. North Street in Chehalis, at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, April 6.