A coalition headed by two local businessmen is starting a campaign in support of a new Interstate 5 bridge across the Columbia River.
The group intends to campaign for a pair of C-Tran ballot measures to boost the sales tax in Clark County to improve bus service and operate an extension of Portland’s light-rail transit system on a new I-5 bridge.
Keep Clark County Moving registered as a political action committee with the Washington Public Disclosure Commission on Jan. 24.
“There’s a lot of noise out there regarding anti-toll, anti-bridge, anti-light rail,” said Tim Schauer, president of MacKay & Sposito, an engineering firm based in Vancouver. “I don’t think it’s a large portion of the population, but in the absence of another voice, it can seem like that.”
Schauer said he and Vancouver businessman and philanthropist Ed Lynch are heading the group, which generated $14,525 in contributions as of Thursday.
The group also commissioned a poll gauging public support for the ballot measures.
“The phrase I would use is that it’s winnable,” Schauer said. “I wouldn’t say a majority or minority, because we don’t know what the ballot actually says yet.”
Schauer declined to share any specifics of the poll, how much it cost or what questions were asked.
“The intent of our poll was to figure out how do we be very effective moving this thing forward?” he said. “My belief has been that, if everyone is well-educated with the facts, reasonable people make reasonable conclusions.”
C-Tran’s board of directors is planning to decide on the timing of two ballot measures during its next meeting on April 12.
The new political action committee already has some notable contributors. C-Tran executive director Jeff Hamm has contributed $1,000. Roy Jennings, a bus driver who represents labor on the 10-member C-Tran board, has pitched in $500. Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, another member of the C-Tran board, has personally contributed $100 to the campaign.
Six months ago, the C-Tran board voted to put forward two ballot measures in 2011.
One measure would ask voters to bump the sales tax by two-tenths of 1 percentage point to preserve existing bus service, add some new routes and shore up C-Van service for riders with disabilities. The other measure would ask for a one-tenth of 1 percentage point increase to operate the light rail extension on a new I-5 bridge and build a new bus rapid transit line in dedicated lanes along Fourth Plain Boulevard.
C-Tran officials earlier this month suggested a timeline that would delay the light rail measure until November 2012.
Officials say that would provide enough time to convene an expert review panel, draw up a finance plan and conduct a formal alternatives analysis for high-capacity transit. A split vote requires C-Tran to conduct the more protracted process under state law.
Light rail opponents have pressed for a vote to take place as soon as possible.
Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, a member of the C-Tran board of directors, said he’s familiar with the new political action committee’s poll and is confident both measures already have majority support. Stuart’s wife, Heather Stuart, serves as the committee’s treasurer.
Even so, Stuart said he’s not convinced there is a compelling reason this year to put the light rail measure before voters who are struggling in a fragile economy.
“It’s a bad time to be asking for more,” he said. “If we need to ask voters to save bus service this year, then so be it. But nobody has made that policy case to me about the other measure, about why we have to go out this year.”