C-Tran director: Most Columbia River Crossing concerns settled

Transit agency board to vote on bridge issues in July

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C-Tran decision on light rail voter makeup postponed

C-Tran decision on light rail voter makeup postponed

As final plans for the Columbia River Crossing grow more clear, C-Tran Director Jeff Hamm told the board of directors Tuesday night that most of the agency’s concerns with the project have been settled.

Hamm went through 11 concerns the C-Tran Board of Directors outlined when it adopted a Locally Preferred Alternative in 2008 that called for a replacement Interstate 5 bridge that includes light rail transit and described what potential problems remained.

Hamm’s review was based on last month’s release of the CRC’s draft Final Environmental Impact Statement, a massive document that the federal government will use to approve the five-mile megaproject.

The draft, released in May, will go before all the agencies involved in the project, and give a firmer look at the financing and environmental impacts of the $3.6 billion project. The environmental impact statement is expected to be finished by the end of September; the project hopes to have a federal Record of Decision, which allows final design and construction to begin, by the end of the year.

Last week, Oregon’s Metro regional government approved a resolution saying its concerns were met well enough to sign the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Similarly, next month, the C-Tran board will go over financing plans, and vote on authorizing Hamm to sign the Final Environmental Impact Statement. It will also vote on a Memorandum of Understanding, saying it feels impacts to local historical sites will be properly managed.

On Tuesday, most board members said they had not yet finished reading the statement, a nearly 10 pound document.

As members were briefed on the crossing’s environmental impacts, including economic justice, Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart questioned the disproportionate affect tolls will have on low-income commuters.

Under federal guidelines, the CRC feels it has offset the economic justice issues around tolling because a substantial increase in public transit will benefit poor commuters, CRC Environmental Manager Jeff Heilman said. The CRC will also offer those without checking accounts or credit cards access to automatic tolling transponders, which will be the cheapest way to pay tolls, he said.

Stuart countered that everyone who wants help getting a transponder will get it. (All tolling on the CRC will be electronic; those without transponders will have pictures of their license plates matched to owners).

“There is nothing in what you said that will says ‘I will mitigate (for low-income drivers),’” Stuart said, calling for more research into income tax credits on the Oregon side or income-based sliding tolls.

Heilman said that the Final Environmental Impact Statement isn’t the final blueprint for such things as specific tolling methods, and that those details can continue to be worked on after the federal Record of Decision has been made.

But Hamm said that of the 11 original conditions C-Tran gave in 2008, just five — including three concerns about financing — will require further refinement and decisionmaking after the federal Record of Decision. The conditions that are still not settled are:

• Light rail capital financing: C-Tran said it did not want to ask voters for money for the capital construction of light rail from Portland to Clark College. The project has asked for $850 million for the construction from the Federal Transit Authority’s New Starts program; however, that money is yet to be distributed. C-Tran will have a vote in 2012 on an operations and maintenance sales tax increase for light rail.

Questions also still remain about just how C-Tran and TriMet will share construction, operations and maintenance cost. Under another condition, the board also wanted light rail to provide a net benefit to existing C-Tran patrons, which staff said ridership forecasts seem to indicate.

• Light rail alignment: Light rail should be designed so “it would not muscle out our local bus lines,” Hamm said. So far, that looks good, but operational issues may come up as planning continues, he said.

• Sustainability: The CRC should look to follow sustainable principles, limit cost overruns and avoid impacts. Hamm said that the crossing staff is keeping that in mind, but further details will develop as the project heads toward construction.

The other conditions that were met included: making Clark College the terminus of the line; designing light rail for future extensions and connections; creating a formal oversight committee; and seeking voter approval for light rail operations financing.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542 or andrea.damewood@columbian.com or www.twitter.com/col_cityhall or www.facebook.com/reporterdamewood.