C-Tran board accepts bus rapid transit recommendations

Alternatives for 4th Plain, Fort Vancouver Way to be explored

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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The C-Tran Board of Directors on Tuesday moved ahead with a set of recommendations that could bring a bus rapid transit line to Vancouver’s busy Fourth Plain Boulevard and Fort Vancouver Way corridors.

A citizen advisory committee last month recommended going away from dedicated bus lanes on the busiest parts of Fourth Plain — but appeared open to the idea on Fort Vancouver Way near Clark College.

The C-Tran board voted 8-1 to move those alternatives ahead Tuesday. The concepts range from putting BRT vehicles in mixed traffic or partially restricted business access lanes, or separating them entirely in a bus-only median lane.

Dedicated bus lanes are one of several tools a BRT system can use in an effort to ease traffic congestion. Others include raised boarding platforms, larger vehicles or specialized traffic signals — usually mixed and matched at different parts of a given corridor.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, one of nine voting C-Tran board members, asked planners how the project will benefit passengers who travel within the Fourth Plain area versus those who are just passing through. Overall, he said the corridor’s functionality is “not good enough.”

C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm said all perspectives are being considered.

“I think the objective is to reduce travel times for all users,” Hamm said.

The lone dissenting vote on the BRT proposals came from Clark County Commissioner Tom Mielke. Based on what he’s heard so far — particularly from Fourth Plain businesses — Mielke said he’s not con

vinced the project does enough to help the corridor and keep proper business access intact.

“I don’t see how this concept is going to get there,” Mielke said.

C-Tran hopes to settle on a single BRT proposal in 2012, with construction likely happening in 2013 or 2014. If built, a BRT line would replace C-Tran’s existing Nos. 4 and 44 bus routes. Operating money would come from a planned sales tax ballot measure next year, separate from this year’s Proposition 1.

C-Tran will host a Nov. 16 design workshop at 4 p.m. in Gaiser Hall on the Clark College campus.

Labor contract OK’d

The board also finalized a long-overdue labor agreement with one of its employee groups on Tuesday, entering into a three-year labor contract with its union-represented machinists.

The new agreement dates retroactively to Jan. 1, 2010, and expires at the end of 2012. C-Tran’s machinists, or maintenance staff, had been working under the terms of an expired agreement since December 2009.

The agreement gives machinists no general wage increases for the duration of its three years, but does allow regular “step” pay raises, according to C-Tran. Medical and dental benefits did not change, leaving machinists with the same package as C-Tran’s represented bus operators, who have the entire cost of their medical and dental insurance covered — unless the cost to C-Tran jumps by more than 9.5 percent from one year to the next.

C-Tran and its 50-member machinist group — represented by International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers — had reached at least two prior tentative agreements this year, but both were rejected by the machinists’ full membership, according to C-Tran. The two sides reached the latest tentative deal on Oct. 24, and the machinists ratified it Oct. 28.

The board’s Tuesday vote makes it official.

The machinists’ new contract ends only one of multiple labor negotiations between C-Tran and its represented employee groups. A dispute between C-Tran and its bus operators is headed toward third-party arbitration, with a hearing set for January. Operators are the largest of C-Tran’s employee groups, and their contract could set the tone for other agreements still unresolved.

Eric Florip: 360-735-4541; www.twitter.com/col_enviro;eric.florip@columbian.com.