North Sound Transportation Alliance

The North Sound Transportation Alliance (NSTA), formerly known as the Farmhouse Gang,  is a coalition of concerned citizens, elected officials and professional staff of transportation agencies from Washington’s five northwestern-most counties: Whatcom, Skagit, Island, San Juan and northern Snohomish. NSTA strives to develop better ways for people to travel in the region by pursuing the following objectives:

Download the NSTA Backgrounder document for more information.



Stakeholders in NSTA have identified five key focus areas for their efforts:

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NSTA’s long-term support of the inter-county connector services between Whatcom, Skagit, Island, and Snohomish Counties continues to be a primary priority of the coalition. Work in 2018 and 2019 continued to develop strategies for supporting these growing routes in an equitable way. NSTA also looked at other projects that could improve transit connectivity. Pilot projects and studies have been prioritized for further attention.

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Ferry service

Ferries are a critical component of the NSTA transportation network and a key focus area for stakeholders. In 2018 and 2019 NSTA participants considered many aspects of operations including electrification of ferry systems, passenger-only routes, examples of ferry service around the Puget Sound that are working to provide additional service and emergency service, and the sustainability of WA State Ferries.

The goal of the July 9 panel was to hear the views of regional passenger ferry operators and key stakeholders and identify strategies for implementing services on North Sound routes identified in the recently completed Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) study.

Video recording of webinar

Report of proceedings

What do agencies need to think about when considering funding an electric ferry service? What services are needed at terminals to support electrification? How do electric ferries fit with connecting transportation networks?

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Health & Transportation

People with limited transportation options due to age, income, or disability face various challenges in getting to and from medical appointments, emergency calls, and pharmacies. In 2018 and 2019 NSTA stakeholders identified the relationship between access to healthcare and transportation as a critical issue and made it a priority to brainstorm ways to address these challenges.

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Active Transportation

The NSTA region includes hundreds of miles of trails used by bicyclists, hikers for recreation, commuting to work, and other activities. Active transportation modes are a critical part of any transportation network encouraging exercise, accessibility, and enhancing community and transit connections. In 2019 NSTA initiated a regional trails inventory to identify opportunities for improved connections.

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Passenger Rail

NSTA has always had an interest in improving passenger rail service between Seattle, WA and Vancouver B.C. In 2018 and 2019 several meetings were held to discuss opportunities to advance WA State Department of Transportation’s (WSDOT) Rail Plan and the goal of a third Amtrak Cascades round-trip between Seattle and Bellingham.


The following projects were completed prior to 2017 and were completed with grant funding for the North Sound Connecting Communities Project, also known as the Farmhouse Gang.

County Connector Passenger Survey

The Whatcom Council of Governments (WCOG) conducted a passenger survey on all four County Connector routes in March and April of 2015. The County Connector Passenger Survey was funded by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) using Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO) funds.  This report summarizes results of the first passenger survey conducted on the county connector service.

County Connector Transit Service

As a result of the Intermodal Connections and Commuter Study, funding was set aside by former State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen for a joint transit project providing continuous transit service within Whatcom, Skagit and Island Counties.  This project was subsequently made permanent and continues to provide transportation connections to schools, colleges, medical facilities and other services.  Additional connections were coordinated later to allow transit travel from Whatcom County through Skagit and Island Counties to Everett, the major employment center in Snohomish County.

Business Case Study of Passenger-only Ferry Service Between Bellingham and Friday Harbor 

Through NSTA, funds contributed by several parties were combined to determine the fiscal feasibility of and best-case ownership and operating arrangements for such a service, based on a previous four-month ferry service pilot project and survey.

Traveler Information Kiosk System

This pilot project established ten traveler information kiosks at major transportation crossroads around the region, including train stations, ferry terminals and airports. The kiosks were supplied with poster-sized Transportation Connections maps as well as individual brochures.  This project was funded by a combination of local contributions and federal Transportation Enhancement funds.  Although this project has been completed, WCOG continues to provide maps and update the posters.

Regional Transportation Governance Study

In 2001, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Transportation identified regional governance of transportation as an area in which improvement was necessary.  Following up on these recommendations, the State Legislature considered a number of legislative proposals regarding regional governance and financing mechanisms.  NSTA requested and received funding to conduct its own study of regional transportation governance models, and to develop alternatives that would build upon the positive working relationships that hed been developed in northwest Washington.  The Governance Study was prepared by the Whatcom Council of Governments and the Cascadia Project of the Discovery Institute and was completed in 2002.

Recommendations Regarding Governance

Although the Governance Study found no compelling need or interest in changing fundamental attributes of the NSTA, it did identify opportunities for improvement, including clarification of the coalition’s purpose, mission and goals.  Among the recommendations were clarifying NSTA goals, developing performance measures to better gauge levels of success and strengthening the coalition’s support for its existing constituencies.

Intermodal Connections and Commuter Study

This study examined existing and future demand for work-based and other types of commuter transportation in northwestern Washington and considered the availability, feasibility and desirability of all potential modes.

For more information

For more information, please contact Melissa Fanucci, Principal Planner at or (360) 685-8385.