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Bus service in Klickitat County will end if state budget stands

Legislature's approved spending plan doesn't include funding for county transit

The proposed state budget, approved by the Washington Legislature last week, contained some bad news for Klickitat County's Mt. Adams Transportation Services.

If the budget is not amended, it could spell the end of the newly-created bus service that connects White Salmon and Bingen with Hood River, Dallesport, The Dalles, Goldendale, and points in between.

That service began on April 9.

According to Roger Gadway, director of the transportation agency, the budget shortfall was only a few hundred thousand dollars.

"The current budget has $3.5 million for rural mobility, and we needed them to provide $3.9 million to get funded," Gadway said. "We found out that of our two rural mobility grants, neither got funded in the state's budget. We're trying to figure out what to do from here."

Gadway pointed out that the Legislature is currently meeting in a Special Session in Olympia to pass a transportation bill.

"Whether funds will be appropriated, we'll have to wait and see," Gadway said. "Primarily, the session is to deal with the highway. We don't know at this point if there will be money for other transit options."

Gadway added that the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners agreed to keep the service going through at least through the end of July.

"That's all the longer it goes at this point," he said. "If there is no funding, the drivers will be laid off and the buses sent back to Everett. Basically, a shut down of the project."

White Salmon Mayor Roger Holen said he was not optimistic about the future for the transportation service unless the Legislature can do something.

"Those brand new buses would be dead in the water if they can't figure a way to keep them running, and the people who drive them would be out of work," Holen said. "It's absolute insanity to get a system like that up and running, then not fund it."

Gadway said the budget shortfall stemmed from passage of Initiative 695 a couple years ago.

"Transportation districts around the state applied for more funding to make up for the loss of dollars when Initiative 695 was passed by voters," he explained. "That initiative repealed most vehicle excise tax money. That fund was used to match transportation districts. Now there is much more competition for dollars."

If the bus service is lost, two full time employees "and probably half a dozen part time positions" would be eliminated. In addition, the three buses -- leased on a monthly basis -- would be sent back to Everett.

However, the special legislative session could add more money to transit operations across the sate.

"We're hopeful, but it's far from a sure thing," Gadway said.


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