Bus rapid transit plan gives citizen panel pause

C-Tran says citizens advisory committee's rejection doesn't stop the Fourth Plain project

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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A citizens group voted down plans for bus rapid transit on Fourth Plain Boulevard on Thursday night, citing a lack of clear information, the board's chairwoman said.

The C-Tran Citizen Advisory Committee -- a standing group representing a wide array of the agency's users and stakeholders -- is the first to reject the locally preferred alternative for a high-capacity bus line, set to run from downtown to Westfield Vancouver mall.

The citizen advisory committee's rejection does not stop the project, C-Tran Public Affairs Director Scott Patterson said Friday.

However, the vote does signal the ongoing controversy surrounding the $40 million to $55 million project: On Friday, opponents of the controversial project heralded the down vote as a major step in blocking its progression.

But chairwoman Lisa Rasmussen, who was among those who voted against the plan, said the citizen's board fully supports bus rapid transit -- they just needed clarification.

"It's not that the CCAC is against the BRT. We are in favor of the BRT," Rasmussen said. "We just felt things had changed in regard to the estimate of the cost and how that was going to work out. We just couldn't support it the way things were presented last night."

She said the board hopes to hear more at its next meeting.

Patterson said that speakers at the meeting, along with other opinions given that night, "created an interesting dynamic."

"Given the nature of this project and the process that's under way, we don't expect a project like this to have smooth sailing the entire way," Patterson said, adding the vote "forces us as an agency to be sure that the people who are interested in weighing in on this project have as complete information as they can."

There are really just three groups that have to give bus rapid transit the go-ahead, Patterson said.

Because the line runs exclusively in city limits, the Vancouver City Council must approve the locally preferred alternative, which it did May 21.

As the flow-through agency for federal money, the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council must also approve plans; its vote is set for Tuesday.

Finally, the C-Tran Board of Directors has to say yes. That group will convene June 12.

A dedicated Corridor Advisory Committee, made up of residents and businesses along the rapid transit route, also approved the plans in early May; although that group recommended the line end at Northeast 121st Avenue, not at the mall.

Three members on the Corridor Advisory Committee also serve on the Citizen Advisory Committee. One of those three did vote against the locally preferred alternative at Thursday's meeting, largely in protest of the shortened line.

Patterson said plans changed to select the shortest line over the last month due to financial considerations.

"Looking at funding realities and cost effectiveness, the initial phase would be to Vancouver mall," he said.

Critics have called into question the agency's ability to finance the construction of the line, and then its ability to run it.

Patterson said C-Tran's bus rapid transit -- which may get up to 80 percent of its capital construction costs from the Federal Transit Administration -- will go through rigorous study and assessment before its built.

"At the end of the day, if this isn't a cost effective process, the FTA isn't going to approve it," he said.

Debbie Peterson, who is running as a Republican for a House seat in the 49th Legislative District, has actively campaigned against bus rapid transit. She attended the Thursday meeting and sent a summary email to those who were not in attendance.

In it, she claimed that a motion to "stop the BRT project from moving forward" was successful.

But Rasmussen, the chairwoman, said that never happened.

"We definitely would not do that at all," Rasmussen said. "We want the BRT to continue."

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://www.twitter.com/col_cityhall;andrea.damewood@columbian.com.