On July 10 the Expert Review Panel for high-capacity transit in Vancouver and Clark County presented our findings to the C-Tran board. This concluded a review process that began in February with appointment of five panel members from throughout the United States by Washington’s governor, legislative leaders and the secretary of transportation. Each of us has expertise in various aspects of planning and implementing public transit systems in communities nationwide.
An op-ed by Joe Cortright (“Expert panel failed its duties with light-rail funds study”) in the July 22 Columbian suggested that we “missed” an assumption dealing with the expected $850 million contribution from the Federal Transit Administration for extension of light rail transit into Vancouver.
Cortright was incorrect in suggesting that such an examination was within our scope. He refers to funding for the Columbia River Crossing project, a topic outside the charge to the Expert Review Panel.
Our obligation was to assess the viability of the operations and maintenance plans for two high-capacity transit proposals: extending light rail from Portland into Vancouver and building bus rapid transit on the Fourth Plain corridor.
Because the community will be voting on a sales tax measure to fund maintenance and operations for bus rapid transit and light rail transit, state law RCW 81.104.110 requires that an independent technical review of the C-Tran high-capacity transit plan be undertaken.
During our review process, which included public meetings in Vancouver in April and May, we became aware of public policy issues such as whether there should be a public vote at all, and whether light rail service should even be extended to Vancouver.
We also encountered some expectations that our Expert Review Panel would revisit the entire Columbia River Crossing system plan and assess the viability of that multibillion-dollar project, which has undergone separate, independent expert review analyses.
Plans reasonable, viable
The intent of the law is that voters can have some assurance that the plans up for a vote are reasonable and viable in the view of independent experts.
It was our job to test assumptions, ask critical questions and provide useful guidance based on our collective expertise in the field of public transportation.
Whether one is inclined to vote for or against the measure, it is important to have independent validation that the plans proposed to be funded are viable and, if approved, can be implemented.
Cortright suggested that we should have looked at the financing structure and assumptions that support the CRC’s assertion that the FTA will fund the $850 million request. To suggest that we should have examined this assumption is clearly beyond our scope. To impugn the balance of our work based on his misunderstanding of our charge is disappointing.
Cortright may have assumed that, since we made recommendations regarding federal participation in the bus rapid transit project, we should have done the same with the CRC project. State law directed us to take a comprehensive look at the C-Tran system and finance plan for developing bus rapid transit service along Fourth Plain Boulevard.
In that case, the panel did recommend that C-Tran lower the assumption of federal capital funding from 80 percent to 70 percent.
Speaking for our panel members, I would like to thank all of the agencies and individuals who contributed to our review process. Our final Findings and Recommendations report is available for review online at www.highcapacityerp.com, and at the Vancouver Community Library in downtown Vancouver.
Dennis Hinebaugh is Transit Program Director for the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa and the appointed chair of the C-Tran High Capacity Transit Expert Review Panel.