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Sept. 18, 2021

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C-Tran asks TriMet: Please terminate light-rail contract

Oregon agency called earlier to keep pact in force, just in case

By , Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter

C-Tran has formally asked TriMet to join it in mutually terminating a controversial light-rail contract the two agencies signed last year.

In a letter to TriMet last week, Vancouver Mayor and C-Tran board chairman Tim Leavitt said C-Tran believes the agreement is “unenforceable” and should be terminated. The contract spelled out how the two agencies would operate light rail as part of the defunct Columbia River Crossing project. The proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement folded earlier this year.

The letter followed months of discussion among C-Tran board members, mostly in closed-door executive sessions. A few board members, including Clark County Commissioner David Madore, have openly called for terminating the contract. Now it appears the majority of the C-Tran board agrees.

It’s unclear whether TriMet will agree to mutually end the pact. In July, TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane wrote a letter indicating his agency has no plans to kill the deal, which was left in limbo when the CRC died. The contract, which has no end date, would take effect only if the CRC is actually funded and built.

“For its part, TriMet views the agreement as valuable and important to retain in the event that those milestones are achieved and a viable project emerges from future bi-state discussions,” McFarlane wrote in July. “Given this view, TriMet will take no action to formally terminate the agreement.”

C-Tran and TriMet leaders met in August to discuss the contract. But C-Tran hasn’t heard anything formal to indicate TriMet has changed its stance, said C-Tran spokesman Jim Quintana. Leavitt’s letter asked for a response from TriMet by Nov. 12; the C-Tran board could revisit the issue during its Nov. 18 meeting.

When the contract was approved in September 2013, it drew a swift reaction from CRC opponents and others. Many particularly objected to a clause allowing C-Tran’s eminent domain authority to be used for TriMet to acquire property in Washington for the planned light-rail extension. The deal also includes a $5 million penalty for a breach of contract by either party. C-Tran board members said they didn’t see the entire agreement until after they voted to approve it.

The 40-page contract includes language allowing for termination by one party “as a result of a material breach of an obligation” by the other. It also could be terminated if both parties sign a written agreement to do so, as C-Tran has requested.

Columbian Transportation & Environment Reporter