From landfill to park-and-ride lot: It's a great idea

County commissioners are pressing forward with Intercity Transit's plan to construct a 325-stall park-and-ride lot on a portion of the old Hawks Prairie landfill.

Converting a portion of the sealed garbage dump into a park-and-ride lot is an excellent land use decision. It’s taking a nonproductive piece of county property and turning it into a great community asset.

While Thurston County is the home of state government, and while Olympia is commonly referred to as a “government town,” the truth is South Sound is increasingly a bedroom community for Tacoma and Seattle. Studies have shown that more people leave Thurston County every day to commute to their job in another county than work for state government.

That’s a huge daily exodus.

If you doubt it, check out the Interstate 5 freeway any weekday from 5 a.m. on. It’s practically bumper-to-bumper.

The other regrettable reality is that many of those who jump on the freeway for their daily commute are riding alone. That’s bad for the environment and overcrowds the freeway. Ask those returning to Thurston County what the Friday afternoon commute is like — especially in the summer when folks are getting an early start on the weekend.

Compounding the problem is the reality that Thurston County has few park-and-ride options where motorists can join other commuters to take advantage of a vanpool or carpool opportunity.

The local park-and-ride lot inventory took a real hit back in December of 2004, when the state closed a popular 147-stall lot off Marvin Road near Martin Way. The parcel was bulldozed to make way for the Lacey Marketplace shopping center where Costco, Home Depot and Best Buy are located today.

That left area commuters with few options for ride sharing.

Many filled the lots of strip malls and grocery stores, reducing the stalls available for customers.

Local and state traffic officials scrambled for new park-and-ride options.

Intercity Transit expanded the park-and-ride lot on Martin Way near College Street from 139 to 317 stalls last September. Most days, those stalls are in use.

The county stopped burying garbage at the landfill in 2000. At the time the project was announced, Thurston County Public Works Director Lester Olson said, “It’s a great use for a landfill, and it doesn’t take up commercial property.”

We agree.

Now county commissioners and Intercity Transit officials seem to have come closer to an agreement on IT’s lease of the county property at the Waste and Recovery Center.

Commissioners are saying in lieu of a lease, Intercity Transit officials might want to tackle another project such as extending purple pipe with recycled wastewater to the site or connect the park-and-ride lot with the dog park planned for an adjacent piece of property.

As it is, Intercity Transit will have to spend millions of dollars on the landfill to ensure that compacting garbage doesn’t affect the paved lot.

Intercity Transit has secured a state grant totaling $6.5 million to construct the park-and-ride lot, although it needs approval during the 2011 legislative session to receive the second half of the money. Intercity Transit committed the value of the property and about $600,000 in funds as the local match to secure the grant money.

If all goes according to plan, the park-and-ride lot would open in mid-2012. Intercity Transit’s lease would be for 20 years with an option for another 20 years.

Transportation and county officials are clearly on the right path.

Providing motorists with a viable park-and-ride lot that is safe and secure with easy access to the freeway will be an incentive to single- occupancy drivers to join with others for their daily commute.