A small part of the Legislature’s $4 billion in cuts to the state budget will hit home later this month when a Tacoma-area driver licensing office closes its doors for good.
The University Place office of the state Department of Licensing, where nearly 80,000 transactions took place last year, will be open for business for the last time Sept. 26.
“At the end of the day, we’re going to close it down,” said Brad Benfield, DOL spokesman.
The office at 8313 27th St. W. is one of 10 licensing offices that already have shut down or will close soon to help save an estimated $2.6 million in the agency’s 2009-11 budget, he said.
The University Place closure will account for $132,807 savings because the agency no longer will have to pay for a lease or janitorial services, he said. The office currently is open Tuesday through Saturday.
Drivers who have used this office are encouraged to start doing their driver and vehicle business online. They also can get their driver licenses, renewals and duplicates, take written tests for regular and commercial licenses, request copies of their driving records and take regular driver skill tests at DOL offices in South Tacoma, Puyallup or Lakewood.
A few people walked into the UP office Tuesday afternoon. Signs posted on the door stated that the branch will close and posted directions to the Parkland office at 2502 112th St. E.
Fort Lewis soldier Eric Kollar said he likes the University Place branch because it never has a wait. He didn’t hear it was closing until he came Tuesday to get a motorcycle endorsement.
“It just makes things harder,” he said. “This is where you get the fastest service.”
Steve Harris, a resident of Gig Harbor, said the closure is disappointing, but mostly he hopes the people who work in the branch get to keep their jobs.
They will; all eight full-time workers will be transferred to other locations.
Benfield said a number of factors went into the decision to close the UP office – when the leases are set to expire, the proximity of alternative offices and their ability to take up the slack for walk-in customers.
The UP office had 78,087 transactions in 2008, compared with 69,238 at the South Tacoma office, 83,662 at Parkland and 87,386 at Puyallup.
The agency’s original plan called for closing 25 offices, but licensing officials relented when they realized how far some drivers would have to travel to conduct their business.
Many rural offices that had been targeted for closure got reprieves, but 10 urban offices are set for closure.
The DOL office in Auburn closed in March. One in Olympia closed in July.
Benfield said Internet traffic is increasing, and agency officials hope more people will conduct their business online. In August 2008, just fewer than 10,000 transactions were conducted on the Internet; by June 2009 that number had risen to nearly 25,000 for the month, he said.
“We have been making a real push to identify services that don’t require them to visit an office,” Benfield said.
Since January, drivers have been able to get duplicate licenses on the Web, he said. And as of last month, the agency lets drivers renew their licenses online, coupled with mailing a check. They can do so every other five-year cycle for driver licenses, he said.
Licensing offices in Bothell, Bellevue, Kirkland and East Seattle also are closing Sept. 26.
On Oct. 6, DOL will open a new consolidated office on King County’s East Side, on Bell-Red Road. It eventually will become a “super center,” Benfield said.
Super centers will stay open much later and will give drivers an opportunity to take care of more kinds of business, such as getting enhanced driver licenses, he said.
The South Tacoma and Puyallup offices eventually will become super centers, he said.
Joseph Turner: 360-786-1826
News Tribune staff writer Brian Everstine contributed to this report.
DOL OFFICE CLOSINGS
Here are the locations that have closed or will close, in chronological order.
Othello Feb. 25, 2009
Auburn March 28, 2009
Greenwood April 25, 2009
Olympia (Highways building) July 2, 2009
Bellevue Sept. 26, 2009
Bothell Sept. 26, 2009
Kirkland Sept. 26, 2009
Seattle East Sept. 26, 2009
University Place Sept. 26, 2009
Yakima Express October 2009
Vancouver Express October 2009
NOTE: 11 offices will close, one new one will open, for a net loss of 10 offices.