C-Tran will ask only for bus funds in 2011

Measure on light rail, rapid transit won’t be ready until 2012

By Erik Robinson, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County voters will decide on maintaining bus service this year but will have to wait until 2012 to vote on light rail, C-Tran’s board of directors decided Tuesday evening.

The board will put forward a ballot measure on Nov. 8 asking voters to bump the sales tax by 0.2 of a percentage point to preserve existing bus service, add some new routes and shore up C-Van service for riders with disabilities. Such an increase would cost consumers 2 cents on every $10 purchase.

“I think it’s a no-brainer,” said Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, one of nine C-Tran board members.

However, C-Tran put off a decision on the thornier and more controversial prospect of light rail across a new Interstate 5 bridge.

That vote may not occur until August or November of 2012.

That second measure will ask for an additional 0.1 of a percentage point to operate light rail in downtown Vancouver and provide the local share of a new bus-rapid transit line in dedicated lanes along Fourth Plain Boulevard. When the board decided in September to split the ballot measure, it required a more protracted process under state law — including an expert review, finance plan and analysis of alternatives estimated to cost $500,000. That process won’t be finished in time to put it on the ballot this year, according to agency staff.

“It would be foolish for me to support any kind of ballot measure that’s not ready to go out to the public,” Vancouver City Councilor Larry Smith said.

However, the board was not willing to wait for the ballot measure related to bus service.

The agency has been steadily eating into its reserve account since 2005, when voters last increased the sales tax, by 0.2 of a percentage point. Now, as projected six years ago, C-Tran faces steep service reductions beginning in 2012 unless it gets another increase in the current sales tax rate of 0.5 percent. C-Tran development director Scott Patterson outlined a 38 percent reduction in service hours on fixed routes without a sales tax increase.

C-Tran’s board didn’t feel the same sense of urgency with the second ballot measure.

The extension of Portland’s light-rail transit system must wait on the construction of a new I-5 bridge.

State transportation officials say the $3.6 billion Columbia River Crossing project won’t break ground until 2013 at the earliest — although, in that case, federal funding would need to be secured in the federal fiscal year that begins in October of 2012.

Planners anticipate the Federal Transit Administration will provide $850 million to construct the light-rail extension to Clark College.

The FTA will not build the line, however, without assurances that C-Tran has money to operate it.

Light rail subdistrict?

Leavitt, who opposed splitting the ballot measures when the issue came up in September, last month suggested forming a subdistrict for the ballot measure that included light rail.

State law permits the formation of a high-capacity transit subdistrict as early as July of 2012. Such a district could boost the sales tax in a smaller area — perhaps Vancouver and its urban growth boundary — where voters might be more supportive of light rail and bus rapid transit in downtown Vancouver.

Restricting the vote to Vancouver didn’t go over well with some who testified Tuesday.

“This is going to affect the whole of Clark County,” said Josephine Wentzel of notolls.com.

Leavitt argued later in Tuesday’s meeting that any discussion about forming a subdistrict for the second ballot measure should be the subject of a separate public conversation. County Commissioner Steve Stuart then made sure that such a conversation would occur sooner rather than later.

Stuart asked C-Tran staff members to create a draft resolution for the board to consider at its next meeting on May 10.

That resolution would require the second ballot measure to cover the entirety of C-Tran’s service territory and also clarify that voters will get a chance to decide on light rail before the FTA commits federal money to build it.

“I want people to know and be certain that there will be a full districtwide vote on this, and not just a subdistrict,” Stuart said.

By that time most of the crowd of almost 100 people had filtered out of the county’s Public Service Center. That included Wentzel, who had engaged in a heated exchange with Stuart earlier in the evening. The pair sparred after Stuart asked Vancouver resident Debbie Peterson whether she was representing herself or notoll.com founder David Madore when she testified against the crossing project.

“You don’t ask anyone else,” Wentzel shouted from the back of the room. “That’s complete discrimination!”

Erik Robinson: 360-735-4551, or erik.robinson@columbian.com.