A lawsuit aiming to halt C-Tran’s planned bus rapid transit system in Vancouver was dismissed Friday after a Clark County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the transit agency.
The ruling from Judge David Gregerson effectively removes one of the last potential hurdles before the $53 million project begins construction later this summer. The enhanced bus system, known as The Vine, could open in late 2016, according to C-Tran.
In November, a group of 19 plaintiffs filed a lawsuit arguing that C-Tran is unauthorized to receive federal funding for the project without first receiving voter approval. The lawsuit also argued that the agency is unauthorized to spend its sales tax revenues on The Vine under RCW 81.104, the state’s high-capacity transit law.
C-Tran contended that The Vine does not meet the definition of high-capacity transit because it will operate primarily in mixed traffic, not an exclusive right of way — a position Gregerson agreed with. The judge also found that voter-approved sales tax increases in 2005 and 2011 were not narrow enough to preclude the bus rapid transit project from using those funds.
In 2012, however, C-Tran sought a sales tax increase to help pay for bus rapid transit, plus operate a light rail extension planned as part of the now-defunct Columbia River Crossing, explicitly under RCW 81.104. In the run-up to that vote, C-Tran repeatedly described its bus rapid transit system as high-capacity transit.
When the measure failed, C-Tran leaders instead decided to use the agency’s reserve funds to pay the local share of the project cost. Most of the overall price tag is covered by a federal grant.
C-Tran had argued recently that The Vine “preserves and maintains service,” making it proper to use revenues from the earlier measures that pledged to preserve bus service in Clark County.
“Preservation is not the equivalent of freezing the agency like an insect in amber,” attorney Aaron Millstein said during Friday’s hearing.
C-Tran was represented by Seattle-based law firm K&L Gates. The plaintiffs were represented by Ball Janik LLP of Portland.
The Vine will operate between the Westfield Vancouver mall and downtown, mainly on the city’s Fourth Plain corridor. The system uses larger 60-foot buses, raised boarding platforms and other features to move passengers more efficiently and reliably.
The Vine will replace C-Tran’s existing No. 4 and No. 44 routes on Fourth Plain. The agency has said the new system will cost significantly less to operate than its current service on the corridor, and could free up additional resources for other routes in its network.