Bus rapid transit backers to C-Tran: Move project forward

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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Supporters of bus rapid transit made a renewed push for the system Tuesday night, undeterred by a November vote that left the proposal without a clear path forward for local funding.

A group of citizens presented the C-Tran Board of Directors with more than 250 signatures in support of bringing the enhanced bus system to Vancouver's Fourth Plain corridor. They also brought the endorsements of a handful of neighborhood associations, and a series of requests they say would move the concept forward.

The group asked C-Tran to use its own resources, without raising taxes, to pay the local share of the project. Supporters also want to keep the concept from being lumped together with the Columbia River Crossing -- a connection that has prevented bus rapid transit from gaining the traction it would find on its own, they said.

"People there want this," said Mark Maggiora, who leads the Vancouver-based nonprofit Americans Building Community. "We can do it without raising taxes."

C-Tran has said a bus rapid transit system would cost less to operate and maintain each year than the No. 4 and No. 44 routes that now serve Fourth Plain. Those savings

could reimburse any up-front cost to build it, Maggiora and others said Tuesday night.

C-Tran first floated the bus rapid transit proposal in 2011. The enhanced bus system works by using larger vehicles, raised boarding platforms, specialized signals and other features in an effort to move passengers more efficiently and reliably.

Putting a bus rapid transit line along Vancouver's Fourth Plain corridor between downtown and the Westfield Vancouver mall would cost about $49 million, according to C-Tran. The agency plans to ask for 80 percent of that to be covered by federal grant money, but officials have said 70 percent might be a more realistic amount.

The project was dealt a blow in November with the defeat of C-Tran's Proposition 1. The proposed sales tax increase would have covered the local share to build bus rapid transit. But that fact was largely overshadowed by the measure's other beneficiary: light rail, planned as part of the controversial Columbia River Crossing project.

Light rail and the CRC quickly became the focus of the campaign around the measure.

"As soon as they put that together, I felt like it was an uphill battle," Maggiora said before the meeting.

Maggiora said he believes bus rapid transit would have fared better if left to stand on its own. The measure actually found favor in voting precincts near Fourth Plain, where the line would land, he said.

Critics have questioned the efficiency and cost of such a system for Vancouver. While the concept was in development, some business owners raised worries about access issues with new stations being put in place. During a broader discussion of bus route performance during Tuesday's meeting, Clark County Commissioner David Madore asked whether it makes more sense to pursue smaller, more cost-effective fixes to relieve crowding and reliability issues on Fourth Plain, rather than committing to a large upfront cost for bus rapid transit.

Vancouver resident and C-Tran rider Harry Kiick told the board he feels the system's benefits would go beyond transit.

"This will turn Fourth Plain (to) not only a place to drive through, but a place to go to," Kiick said. "A place to be."