The C-Tran board on Tuesday narrowly advanced a proposed bus rapid transit system on Vancouver’s Fourth Plain corridor, authorizing additional design work and committing $200,000 more to the project.
The action allows -C-Tran to accept $5 million in grants to continue planning the $53 million system, and authorizes Executive Director Jeff Hamm to negotiate the larger federal grant that will pay the lion’s share of the total cost. But it came only after lengthy debate highlighted familiar concerns with the project’s financial plan and other assumptions, and what role voters should play in approving it.
Among the project’s most vocal opponents is Clark County Commissioner David Madore, who repeatedly cited past sales tax votes that C-Tran floated for basic bus service, and the rejection of a 2012 measure that would have helped pay for BRT. Those should give C-Tran pause, he said.
“That comes down to honesty and forthrightness,” Madore said.
The resolution advancing the project passed by a 5-3 vote. Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley abstained, saying he needed time to discuss the issue with councilors in Battle Ground and Yacolt, which he represents on the C-Tran board.
Among those voting in the majority was outgoing Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, who had previously said his last C-Tran meeting would be in March. Instead, he participated in Tuesday’s meeting by phone.
The board held a closed-door executive session in the middle of the meeting, not previously announced, on a BRT-related communication from attorney Tom Wolfendale deemed as privileged and not subject to open discussion.
BRT uses larger vehicles, specialized signals and other features to move more efficiently and reliably. C-Tran has proposed a $53 million line primarily along Fourth Plain Boulevard between downtown and the Westfield Vancouver mall. It would pass through Clark College on Fort Vancouver Way.
If built, the BRT would replace the existing No. 4 and No. 44 buses along that stretch, according to C-Tran. It could open as early as 2016.
On Tuesday, several residents spoke in favor of the project, including some who live or work on the project corridor.
“The people on Fourth Plain are advocating for this,” said Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman.
In July, the board will be asked to authorize a much bigger financial commitment: C-Tran has told the Federal Transit Administration that it plans to use at least $6 million of its reserves for the project. But the board hasn’t yet approved that use.
The project can’t receive a key federal grant — nearly $39 million through the FTA’s Small Starts program, according to the agency — until local funding is committed.