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TriMet rebuffs C-Tran request

It refuses to terminate light-rail contract

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter
Published: November 13, 2014, 12:00am

TriMet reiterated Wednesday that it has no plans to terminate a controversial light rail contract it signed with C-Tran last year, despite an earlier request from C-Tran to do just that.

The two agencies signed the deal last year to detail how they would operate light rail in Vancouver as part of the proposed Columbia River Crossing project. The Interstate 5 Bridge replacement plan has since died, but the contract has no end date, leaving it in legal limbo.

In a letter sent to C-Tran board members, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane called terminating the contract “premature.” As he did in a July letter, the Portland-area transit agency chief appeared to hold out hope that the CRC — or something like it — could be resurrected someday.

“In my three decades working in this region, I have seen countless projects ‘paused,’ only to be rejuvenated through innovation, new funding opportunities, or unexpected changes in circumstances,” McFarlane wrote.

The CRC shut down earlier this year without any funding or enough political support in Washington or Oregon. The project remains dead and unlikely to gain political momentum any time soon, particularly in Washington.

o Previously: In September, C-Tran formally asked TriMet to join it in mutually terminating a controversial light-rail contract the two agencies signed last year.

o What's new: TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane responded by saying his agency has no plans to terminate the deal, tied to the Columbia River Crossing project.

o What's next: The C-Tran Board of Directors may discuss the issue at its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.

o Previously: In September, C-Tran formally asked TriMet to join it in mutually terminating a controversial light-rail contract the two agencies signed last year.

o What’s new: TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane responded by saying his agency has no plans to terminate the deal, tied to the Columbia River Crossing project.

o What’s next: The C-Tran Board of Directors may discuss the issue at its next meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Vancouver Community Library, 901 C St.

A few C-Tran board members have called for the termination of the deal, fearing a future revival could trigger clauses many objected to. Those included a clause allowing C-Tran’s eminent domain authority to be used for TriMet to acquire property in Vancouver. The contract also includes a $5 million penalty for a breach of contract by either party.

The light rail contract only takes effect if the CRC is actually funded and built.

“Leaving the agreement in place at this point costs nothing to either party, while terminating it would undo a great amount of cooperative effort and resources that were put into designing it,” McFarlane wrote. “Given this view, TriMet will take no action to formally terminate the agreement at this time.”

McFarlane did say, however, that TriMet would be willing to revisit the idea of mutual termination one year from now.

It is unclear whether C-Tran is willing to pursue unilateral termination and risk a legal dispute with TriMet. Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt, C-Tran’s board chair, said he believes the majority of the board isn’t interested in needlessly drawing the issue out and incurring extra costs to the agency.

“We recognize that at this time there’s not a Columbia River Crossing-type project on the table,” Leavitt said. “For all intents and purposes, it’s a document that’s in place that has no financial impact to the agency.”

He added: “My opinion is this is much to-do about nothing.”

After the CRC met its demise this year, the C-Tran board spent months discussing what to do about the light rail contract, mostly in closed-door executive sessions. That led to a September letter from C-Tran asking TriMet for a mutual termination of the deal.

The subject could come up again at C-Tran’s next board meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 18.

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