C-Tran prepares a special CRC meeting

List of 93 questions will begin the discussion of bridge, light-rail funding

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 

Public meeting

What: C-Tran Board of Directors special meeting on the Columbia River Crossing.

When: 5:30 p.m. today.

Where: Columbia Room, Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.

The C-Tran Board of Directors will meet face-to-face Tuesday with Columbia River Crossing officials as the transit agency approaches a major decision point on its role in the controversial megaproject.

If the questions already submitted to the CRC are any indication, it could be a long meeting. The 10 C-Tran board members had sent a total of 93 questions to project leaders by Friday, 82 of them from Clark County Commissioner and outspoken CRC critic David Madore.

The meeting will focus entirely on the $3.4 billion Interstate 5 Bridge replacement, particularly the light-rail extension that's planned as part of it. CRC leaders have said C-Tran must find a way to cover the annual operations cost of light rail this year if the project hopes to stay on track.

Plan A, a proposed sales tax increase, was shot down by voters in November. Two weekend workshop meetings this year failed to generate clear consensus among C-Tran board members around a Plan B — if the agency continues supporting the CRC at all. C-Tran is one of the project sponsors.

Federal officials have said local operations funding for light rail must be in place before the CRC can secure an $850 million grant to build it.

The C-Tran board could decide as soon as next week how to proceed on light rail. But first, Tuesday's special meeting will give board members an opportunity for back-and-forth interaction with CRC project directors Nancy Boyd and Kris Strickler. Public comment is also on the agenda.

The questions already submitted by board members cover topics from CRC funding and how light rail was picked as the preferred alternative in 2008 to tolling projections and a planned service agreement with TriMet, the Portland-area transit agency. The CRC gave responses to many, but not all, of those questions by last week.

At least one question from Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt — and its answer from C-Tran's legal counsel — is likely to draw the ire of CRC opponents who have long called for a direct vote on the project.

Leavitt asked whether a five-year-old pledge by C-Tran to put light-rail financing to voters is valid, and what limitations there are on what C-Tran can put on the ballot.

When C-Tran leaders approved the CRC's preferred alternative in 2008, the resolution included this clause: "Any means chosen to finance operations of the (high-capacity transit) component of the CRC project shall be submitted to impacted C-Tran voters for approval." That remains adopted C-Tran policy today.

But a legal memo C-Tran received last week said that language may overstep the agency's authority and thus is "likely overbroad and void." The state Attorney General's Office is expected to weigh in by next month on what state law means for C-Tran's possible light-rail financing options.

The C-Tran meeting is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Columbia Room of the Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.

The meeting will cap a long day for Clark County commissioners, who meet first at 10 a.m. for their regular public hearing on the sixth floor of the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., Vancouver.

One topic of discussion will be when to accept public comment.

Last week, Madore said he'd like to see the period open for all-purpose comment moved to the end of commissioner meetings.

Commissioner Steve Stuart said he wouldn't support that; Commissioner Tom Mielke said he wants to put that idea to the people at today's meeting.

Columbian staff writer Erik Hidle contributed to this story.