Sno-Tran Has Met Goals, Calling It A Day -- Tomorrow Ends Decade Of Success For Transit Agency

LYNNWOOD - It's not often an agency asks to be dismantled.

But in more than 12 years of active operation, SNO-TRAN has accomplished more than most people expected, winning national praise for its rapid-transit planning. That work now is finished, and the Regional Transit Authority is building upon that base.

So as of tomorrow, the agency will close its doors, probably for good.

"We feel we've really accomplished our vision," said Caroline Feiss, executive director of SNO-TRAN. "Staff (went) to the board last year and said, `We think it's time to wrap up and call it a day,' and the board agreed."

On paper, the transit agency was created in 1974 by the Snohomish County Council, with the goal of creating a new county bus system. Its official name is the Snohomish County Transportation Authority, but it's long been known simply as SNO-TRAN.

Voters defeated a proposed tax levy needed for that bus system, so from 1975 to 1982 SNO-TRAN was barely alive, with a six-member board that met once a year. The board consists of County Council members and local mayors.

However, the SNO-TRAN board secured state legislation needed to create Community Transit, a public-transportation benefit authority.

That legislation eventually was used to create 25 of the state's 28 public bus systems - all but Everett Transit, Seattle's Metro and Yakima's city service.

"SNO-TRAN is the mother of community transit," Feiss said.

In 1982, the board activated SNO-TRAN to help obtain federal funding for a Dial-a-Ride service for seniors.

"At that point they hired me as a consultant, and I got the federal funds and managed contracts with senior services," Feiss recalled.

Since then, the agency helped to prepare the county for rapid transit, performed technical studies, educated the community on rail-alignment and station-siting issues, and promoted urban-planning techniques designed to minimize automobile traffic in the future.

When the agency closes, Feiss and SNO-TRAN senior planner Matt Feeney will report for work at the Puget Sound Regional Council. SNO-TRAN's office administrator, Ardelle Bailey, has been hired by Community Transit.

The agency's fourth employee, associate planner Penn Bell, plans to take a break to spend time with her husband, who recently retired.

Although SNO-TRAN's first formal office was on Scriber Lake Road in Lynnwood, in recent years it's been based within Community Transit's headquarters on 164th Street Southwest.

At the Puget Sound Regional Council, Feiss and Feeney will continue to develop their acclaimed urban-planning program. The highlight of that SNO-TRAN project was the 1989 publication of "A Guide to Land Use and Public Transportation," an award-winning manual reprinted by the federal Department of Transportation.

The manual is a "how to" book for urban planners, developers and elected officials on creating land-use policies that support public transit, walking and bicycling.

"We've been working on the transit land-use program in Snohomish County for the last five years; they asked us to come down and make it a four-county program," Feiss said. The Regional Council serves King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

The board will meet at least two more times, in January and March. At the latter meeting, it will decide whether to formally terminate SNO-TRAN or to revert to its pre-1982 format with yearly board meetings.

The board is composed of County Council members Liz McLaughlin, R.C. "Swede" Johnson and Gary Nelson, Everett Mayor Ed Hansen, Mountlake Terrace Mayor Roger Bergh and Arlington Mayor Bob Kraske.

Bill Brubaker, a former county councilman who served seven years on the board, thinks the time is right to dismantle SNO-TRAN. The agency has been a "very significant" regional player, he said.

"The RTA has been created and gelled, and CT and Everett Transit are very much involved in the planning process, and the guidebook's done," he said. "If you're out looking for things to do, you need to question your need to exist. The timing's right, they've done their job, and it's time to move on."