State finalizes transit review panel

High-capacity transit plans will be evaluated ahead of planned vote

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

Updated: March 6, 2012, 7:13 PM

 

On the Web

Expert Review Panel documents and proceedings

State officials have assembled the group of transportation experts that will evaluate a pair of high-capacity transit plans slated for Clark County.

The announcement kicks off a time-crunched review process — required before C-Tran leaders bring a planned sales tax ballot measure to voters later this year to help pay for the operation of new transit systems. That means the panel will have to submit its findings to C-Tran by this summer if the agency hopes to hold a November vote.

A few C-Tran board members have expressed doubts as to whether that’s possible. But panel administrator John White said the group knows the task ahead of it.

“I’m aware of that deadline,” said White, vice president of Vancouver-based consultant BergerABAM. “All of our work is calibrated around finishing that report by June 30.”

The state-mandated process will evaluate financing plans for maintaining and operating two high-capacity transit efforts in the works for Vancouver: a proposed bus rapid transit line along Fourth Plain Boulevard, and a light rail extension to Clark College as part of the Columbia River Crossing project. A proposed sales tax hike put to voters would pay for operation costs. The panel must finish its work before that vote happens.

The group will only focus on the financing plans for maintaining and operating BRT and light rail in Vancouver, White said. It won’t evaluate the merits of the systems themselves, nor will it review the CRC as a whole.

Five members

The five-member panel, announced Tuesday, includes individuals with a wide range of backgrounds from across the country:

• Dennis Hinebaugh, the panel’s chair, is transit director for the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Fla.

• Shelly Brown is the principal of Shelly Brown Associates LLC, a Seattle-based legal and transportation consulting firm.

• Linda Cherrington manages the Transit Mobility Program at Texas A&M University’s Texas Transportation Institute.

• Mike Normand serves as director of transit programs at the Arizona Department of Transportation in Phoenix, Ariz.

• Jeffrey Parker is president of Jeffrey A. Parker & Associates, Inc., a transportation planning company in Chilmark, Mass.

Coordinating the group’s activities is BergerABAM — hired as panel administrator when the C-Tran Board of Directors approved a $330,000 contract in January. Panel members won’t be paid for their work but will be reimbursed for their travel expenses. C-Tran has budgeted $500,000 total to cover the expert review panel process, said public affairs director Scott Patterson.

The panel is expected to hold at least three meetings in Vancouver, with the first likely in April, White said. All meetings will be open to the public, he said, and documents will be posted online. The group has a website set up at http://highcapacityerp.com.

“We’re very, very conscious of the fact that this needs to be a truly fish bowl-transparent kind of process,” White said.

Light rail plans as part of the more than $3 billion CRC are well-documented and well-known to many Vancouver residents. But the other half of the high-capacity transit equation — BRT — is still evolving. Several design options remain on the table, though planners could settle on a preferred choice as soon as next month. The project could cost as much as $75 million, but the final amount will depend on which option is chosen.

For C-Tran’s part, the agency will mostly provide information on those projects to the panel as needed, Patterson said.

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