In Our View: Light … to Go With the Heat

C-Tran's bus rapid transit, light rail planswill be reviewed by objective outsiders



Even with all the respect we have for the fine folks of Clark County, we acknowledge that people in other places might also know a thing or two about transportation. And although we’ve been leery of too many cooks crowding into the local transportation kitchen, there’s something to be said for out-of-town experts. For one thing, as independent observers they usually supply light rather than heat to controversial subjects. They illuminate solutions that many emotion-charged local observers might overlook.Hats off, then, to state officials who have appointed five experts from far away to evaluate financing plans for maintaining and operating two C-Tran proposals: a proposed bus rapid transit line (BRT) along Fourth Plain Boulevard, and a light rail extension into Clark College as part of the Columbia River Crossing.

We’ve never heard of any of these five people … and that’s a good thing. They come from Florida, Texas, Arizona, Massachusetts and Seattle, all carrying large satchels bulging with transportation expertise. They are a transit research expert, a transportation legal consultant, a transit program manager, a state director of transit programs and a transportation planner.

Not only are they bringing a vast storehouse of collective knowledge into C-Tran’s planning, these out-of-towners also are on a tight schedule. This is a good thing because a related ballot measure is planned for November, and attentive voters will benefit from what the objective outsiders have to say.

The Expert Review Panel, which intends to issue its report by the end of June, is expected to hold three meetings in Vancouver, the first likely in April. All meetings will be open to the public. More details can be found at the new website State law requires such analysis from an expert panel, and the five appointments were handled by the governor’s office, chairs of legislative transportation committees and the state transportation secretary. The Expert Review Panel won’t be analyzing the merits of the proposed systems, just the financing plans for maintaining and operating BRT and light rail in Vancouver.

Again, there’s always the danger of meddling micromanagers wading into transportation projects, especially when multijurisdictional issues come into play. But that’s just part of politics. Listening to learned consultants who are free of local biases usually is a pretty good idea. Look what happened in 2010 when eight experts from distant places reviewed the CRC. The Bridge Expert Review Panel that year changed the very structure of the proposed bridge, recommending that the CRC abandon the open web design. Governors of Washington and Oregon sent the CRC back to the drawing board to study the experts’ three suggested alternatives, and the current composite deck-truss style was adopted.

Two years later, there’s ample reason to believe the Expert Review Panel will provide helpful analysis not only for C-Tran but for local voters. We don’t expect the heat to subside anytime soon on controversial local transportation issues. But it’ll be good to have a little more light,too.