Twin Transit

Twin Transit

Twin Transit is exploring options of creating a countywide transit system after it was determined that the only bus routes servicing East Lewis County will no longer be available after June 30, 2019.

Lewis Mountain Highway Transit, which is operated by the White Pass Community Services Coalition, will no longer be able to afford its bus routes after the Washington State Department of Transportation increased the local funding match amount the transit organization needs to pay to remain operational.

Doug Hayden, executive director of the coalition, said the transit service is funded in large part by grants.

“Part of us not moving on beyond 2019 is that the Department of Transportation has continually increased our local match amount every biennium,” he said.

Hayden said the Lewis Mountain Highway Transit at first was responsible for 5 percent in local match funds, but that number has incrementally increased every biennium and now lands at 15 percent, with future increases set.

“There’s no way our organization could foot that,” he said, adding the match amount for the 2017-19 biennium for the transit service was $108,000. “We’ll remain in place until 2019 at least, and I’m very hopeful that the countywide transit will get pushed through or voted in and then I’ve kind of done what we were hoping to get done all along is to try to encourage more transit throughout Lewis County.”

The match amount is set to increase every biennium by 5 percent until the funding reaches a 50-50 threshold. 

Rob LaFontaine, general manager of Twin Transit, said the conversation of a countywide transit system is nothing new. It first started in the late 1990s, but was put on pause and went relatively dormant until LaFontaine took over Twin Transit in 2011. Then the conversation started again, but since the area was still rebounding from the recession, it was determined the timing wasn’t right.

Now, since Lewis Mountain Highway Transit will no longer be able to afford its portion of funding for the necessary grants to stay operational, Twin Transit has once again started to look at expanding its reach. 

“Their match obligation is getting up high enough that without a tax base, they can’t keep going,” LaFontaine said. 

In order to establish a countywide transit system, each incorporated town or city would have to join the Twin Transit geographical boundary. In order for the expansion to be funded, each city would have to approve a two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase within city limits.

Centralia and Chehalis would be exempt from voting, since the two cities already pay the two-tenths of 1 percent sales tax to fund Twin Transit. 

Both LaFontaine and Hayden said many people in smaller communities already do much of their shopping in the Twin Cities, so they are already paying the sales tax, although they do not reap the rewards of a transit service in their area. 

“By expanding the boundary, yes, it does add a sales tax to taxable goods and services inside the community, but most households I speculate would not see much of a change because many are already paying that tax inside of Centralia and Chehalis,” LaFontaine said. 

By introducing a countywide transportation service, the transit opportunities would go beyond what Lewis Mountain Highway Transit currently serves, which includes Packwood, Mossyrock and Onalaska, among others. 

In order for the measure to be in place before Lewis Mountain Highway Transit ceases operations at the end of June 2019, LaFontaine said, Twin Transit needs to know whether the expansion would occur before the fall of 2018, which is when the next grant funding cycle is. 

If communities supported it, the funding mechanism will likely be on the ballot in fall 2017, or spring 2018, at the latest.

A lot of the conversations would happen within the jurisdictions of Lewis County that are not currently served by transit, LaFontaine said. Those discussions will boil down to commissioners Bobby Jackson and Gary Stamper, who both serve rural parts of the county, as well as the mayors and councilors of the towns and cities that do not have transit services.

“Right now until further exploration happens the sort of proposal would be to expand the transit authority to a countywide entity using our existing tax rate of two-tenths of a percent and then using that revenue that’s collected to provide bus service throughout the county,” LaFontaine said, adding Twin Transit would likely hire a consultant to do some research on the public sentiment and the costs associated with an expansion of this kind. 

Lewis County is a minority when it comes to countywide transit systems. Surrounding counties of Pacific, Grays Harbor, Jefferson and Clallam all have countywide systems, according to LaFontaine. 

Hayden said his goal has always been to have a countywide transit system, and he believes the time to act is now before services in East County come to an end. 

“There’s a lot of people even with the east end, then you have Pe Ell, Toledo, Winlock and Napavine that really don’t have services,” he said. “It really would work better if there was one entity who could sort of coordinate, analyze and get funded to provide these services and figure out how best to cost effectively provide those services.”

Since its creation in January 1998, through February of this year, Lewis Mountain Highway Transit has provided 185,054 rides, with a monthly average of between 700 and 750 boardings. 

LaFontaine said if the proposal went through, it would be a significant change for the outlying areas, and would likely trigger a name change for Twin Transit. 

“This is really interesting and kind of an exciting discussion for those who depend on the service over there in the east end,” he said. “I suspect it could be somewhat of a scary conversation that the transit service some families may depend on or enjoy using has an uncertain future. Fortunately we have time to have discussions as a community about this and that’s basically where we’re at right now.” 

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(5) comments

Frosted Flake

Perhaps it would help if 'we' stopped thinking of transit as a handout to the bums and started thinking of transit as a public utility. Like most of the rest of the civilized World. You know, those folks we are better than, "Cause this Mer'ca. Gull durn it."

hiccup1234

Lewis Mountain Highway Transit only runs M-F. With this expansion, be thinking about how to leverage the Centralia Amtrak station & leverage transit on the Highway 12 corridor to support tourism. With the advent of Portland and Seattle light rails, there are a whole generation of folks who are oriented to rail, & would be open to an opportunity to access Mt Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, White Pass & the Scenic Byway towns via Highway 12 transit. A 7-day schedule with Centralia Amtrak in mind would also help folks needing to commute into Seattle or Portland, or utilize the Int'l Airports.

Malia98532

Twin Transit only operates M-F and stops early on Saturdays.. No Sunday Service.. Plus with them getting their new transit center constructed in the coming who knows how long that will take, not sure how long it'll take before we have any expansion.. I know they would like to do it..But they don't even cover all of Chehalis currently.. Plus they don't go to Grand Mound anymore so with the lack of service and of course the state not able to give the money they should, things are just not to where they should be.. Currently the last over 5 years plus they have been using the train station as their main transfer point..All the Twin Transit buses meet up there.. With exception of Route 12 which stays in Chehalis. Pretty sure I heard that they were going to still serve the train station when the new transit center is completed but they won't stay around there for too long like they do currently...Even though the riff raff isn't as bad as it was a couple years ago, it still is a concern.. LEWIS Mountain Transit (separate entity from Twin Transit) will be discontinuing their service within the next couple years..Twin Transit will have to do something then but not sure how that will pan out yet.. Twin Transit originally had their transfer point over by where the Centralia Library/Antique Mall and Schucks Auto Supply (now O'Reilly's ) is.. but moved it back in the late 1990s because the reasoning was to get people that were coming off of the trains to do like what you suggested and get the people to places in town.. But the last couple years there's been lots of problems with riff raff, drug activity and homeless laying around and trashing the place.. Plus the bathrooms in the train station are not for the passengers of Twin Transit but they are for the passengers of the trains.. Thanks to the riff raff that was there for years that trashed the restrooms.. Police didn't come around often enough to get rid of the riff raff so things got out of hand..

hiccup1234

Great information! Thank you!

cph1776

On a visit to the Pacific Northwest in 1997, I rode the bus from Seattle to Centralia, connecting to Twin Transit at Grand Mound.

Then came I-695 in 1999, and many of the rural transit links were cut. Connectivity between Centralia and Olympia has been since restored with Thurston County's Rural and Tribal Transit system.

A countywide transit system in Lewis County should provide increased service along the major corridors (I-5, US-12 and WA-6), stopping in towns that don't have Greyhound service. It could also provide better connections to adjoining counties, such as an extension of the mountain route to Yakima, a commuter route between Chehalis/Centralia and Olympia, and service south along the I-5 corridor to Kelso/Longview (replacing the Lower Columbia CAP bus service to Vancouver WA)

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