C-Tran's deal with TriMet stands

Board members are unswayed by angry speakers, some of whom lob personal attacks

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

Published:

 
Document

C-Tran agreement with TriMet

Download .PDF

The C-Tran Board of Directors on Tuesday stood by a controversial contract with TriMet to operate light rail in Vancouver, after a boisterous rally and a parade of speakers mostly against the agreement.

Before the meeting, about 150 people gathered in a space in The Academy building to protest C-Tran, the agreement with TriMet, and the Columbia River Crossing project that would bring light rail to Vancouver.

In a special meeting two weeks ago, the C-Tran board narrowly approved a plan that spells out the terms under which C-Tran and TriMet would operate the planned light rail extension to Clark College. The contract itself was finalized the day of that meeting; the heads of the two transit agencies signed it the next day.

Many people at the rally directed their ire at the C-Tran board members on the winning end of the 5-4 vote approving it.

"They may be ignoring us," said Clark County GOP Chair Lynda Wilson said, "but we're certainly not ignoring them."

Clark County Commissioner David Madore, among those who have strongly opposed the contract, introduced a resolution Tuesday to repeal it. The motion was defeated by a 5-3 tally, with Madore joining Washougal City Councilor Connie Jo Freeman and Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley in the minority. County Commissioner Steve Stuart, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt,

Vancouver councilors Larry Smith and Jeanne Harris, and La Center Mayor Jim Irish voted against the resolution — the language of which included numerous inaccuracies and legal issues, said Stuart and others. County Commissioner Tom Mielke was absent.

The end result: The contract stands.

Opponents have focused on a few specific portions of the agreement that kept a key component of the CRC on track. Among the most controversial is a clause allowing C-Tran's eminent domain authority to be used when TriMet needs to acquire property for the light rail extension. It also states that a breach of contract by either party could result in a $5 million penalty.

C-Tran attorney Tom Wolfendale said Tuesday that he attempted — unsuccessfully — to negotiate a clearer out clause for C-Tran. TriMet resisted, and it ultimately was not included in the final agreement, he said.

The CRC is now a revised $2.7 billion effort with Oregon at the helm. Washington largely pulled out financially when lawmakers in Olympia adjourned without authorizing money for the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement. C-Tran halted work on the CRC until its board directed it to resume planning last month.

The result was a light-rail plan put together by Sept. 26. It includes a financial plan under which C-Tran would cover its out-of-pocket share of operating the system, estimated at $2.3 million annually after fare revenues in 2019.

Supporters have said the plan is an opportunity to carry forward a valuable project without raising local taxes — something voters rejected in 2012. Madore and other opponents reiterated their belief Tuesday that the arrangement puts C-Tran at too great a risk.

"We have a train wreck in front of us," Madore said. "This agency is going to have huge financial losses if we get this wrong."

The meeting grew heated at times, with some speakers lobbing personal attacks at individual board members — particularly those who supported the agreement. Ganley, the board chair, attempted to rein in applause and cheering from the crowd, to no avail.

Madore floated two other resolutions during the meeting. One highlighted the C-Tran board policy, adopted in 2008, that called for a public vote on "any means chosen" to finance the operation of high-capacity transit as part of the CRC. It was not acted on.

Another resolution, directing the board to "welcome, consider and courteously regard" the outcome of an upcoming advisory vote on bus rapid transit, was postponed until next month.