CRC parking garages to cost up to $176 million

3 structures would accommodate light-rail commuters

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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The three park-and-ride garages slated to be built in downtown Vancouver for light-rail commuters are expected to cost $158 million to $176 million, the Columbia River Crossing said Tuesday.

The cost, estimated in 2010 and expected to be updated again this summer, includes design and construction and accounts for risk and inflation, but does not include the cost of acquiring property, a CRC spokeswoman said.

The garages are included in the $850 million request the project will make to the Federal Transit Authority to pay for the construction to extend Portland’s light rail to Clark College.

Crossing staff said that projections show the three garages would be heavily used, and in 2030 all 2,890 spaces would be filled each weekday as commuters arrive downtown from the north and east.

The garages, while expensive, are essential to making light rail a success for users all over the county, CRC spokeswoman Katy Belokonny said.

“We’re investing in a transit improvement project, and for that line to be really utilized, there have to be places that are built to give people … a place to park,” she said. “Otherwise, it would only be effective for those who are within walking distance, and there aren’t that many people.”

But Portland economist and vocal CRC critic Joe Cortright said that the garages will turn downtown into a warehouse for cars.

“The structures themselves are literally warehouses for vehicles,” said Cortright, a consultant who is on the payroll of Plaid Pantry CEO and CRC opponent Chris Girard. “They tend to create dead zones around them.”

The Vancouver City Center Redevelopment Authority has also expressed its concern about the garages’ design, and this spring called for the garages to do more to stimulate redevelopment. Mayor Tim Leavitt wrote in May to say the city council also wants to see the parking garages used for more than cars.

Free parking for commuters

The CRC will put in three park-and-ride garages: the Columbia Park and Ride, 570 spaces at Columbia and Fifth streets; the Mill Park and Ride, 420 spaces at Washington and 15th streets; and the Central Park and Ride with 1,900 spaces near the line’s Clark College terminus.

Parking for those using light rail is planned to be free, said Anne Pressentin, a CRC spokeswoman.

“Charging commuters for parking is not consistent with neither TriMet nor C-TRAN’s current policy,” Pressentin said, but she added that whether nonlight-rail users parking in a garage would be charged “is still to be determined.”

Vancouver already has several underutilized parking garages downtown, most notably at the Vancouvercenter building, not far from where the CRC’s Columbia garage is set to go. But city staff have said the spaces in Vancouvercenter will be occupied by tenants once the building is fully leased, disqualifying it for use by commuters.

The Columbia Park and Ride will provide easy on-and-off access for commuters arriving from state Highway 14; the Mill location will draw drivers from the west and north; and the Central Park and Ride will be the easiest route for people coming in from the north on I-5, Deputy Transit Manager Wes King said.

“We’ve worked very closely to try and develop park-and-ride locations that will serve commuters from across the entire county,” he said.

Planning concerns

The plan for the garages has already faced concerns from Vancouver long-range planners and the Vancouver City Center Redevelopment Authority. They wrote the Columbia River Crossing this spring with concerns over the garages’ architectural style, size and lack of multiuse features, such as incorporating apartments or offices onto the top floors of the buildings.

Plans call for the Columbia and Mill sites to include ground-floor retail, which is required under the city’s downtown building codes.

“It’s a lipstick-on-a-corpse type of requirement,” Cortright said of the inclusion of retail stores. “You can require that you build storefronts, but that doesn’t mean they will be filled.”

The city center redevelopment authority also said there should be more than just ground-floor retail. It asked that the project put the parking underground or find a way to incorporate apartments, condos or office space.

In May, Leavitt wrote a letter to the authority, saying the city council embraces the authority’s position.

“There are many competing values and interests, each with its own merits on this project,” the mayor wrote. “I am pleased to share with you that the staff has initiated work on several elements of work mentioned in your letter and that we fully intend to ask those difficult questions of the CRC Project Team.”

But the money from the Federal Transit Authority won’t pay for anything more than the above-ground structures with the city-required retail, King said.

“We continue to do research and work with the city on if there’s potential for development to be included on top of the park and rides,” he said.

The city’s transportation policy director, Thayer Rorabaugh, said last month that perhaps the CRC’s garages could be built to accommodate future addition of apartment or office space at a time when a private builder or the city may wish to develop the space.

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