If The Vine wasn’t already a done deal, it is now.
The head of the Federal Transit Administration joined C-Tran leaders and other partners Thursday to celebrate the planned bus rapid transit project and make it official. The day’s agenda included signing the documents that formally give C-Tran a $38.5 million grant from the FTA. That means every bit of the project’s $53 million price tag is now in hand.
During an event at Clark College — which sits along The Vine’s planned route — FTA Acting Administrator Therese McMillan and C-Tran Executive Director Jeff Hamm both signed a large poster board in front of the cameras for good measure.
“This day has been a long time coming,” Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt said during the event. “Some might say, including me, too long.”
Planning for The Vine began in 2011, evolving through a complex and sometimes turbulent development process. The enhanced bus system will run between the Westfield Vancouver mall and downtown. It will travel primarily along the city’s Fourth Plain corridor, by far C-Tran’s busiest, also serving Fort Vancouver Way and Clark College.
C-Tran held a separate kick-off event in downtown last month. Construction starts next week.
“It’s always a huge accomplishment to deliver infrastructure when the need always outstrips the resources you have,” McMillan said after Thursday’s event. That’s particularly notable in an era of political acrimony and financial uncertainty, she added.
The Vine will use larger vehicles, raised boarding platforms and other features in an effort to move passengers more efficiently and reliably. Sixty-foot articulated buses will serve 34 new stations along the corridor. The system will be less costly to operate than the service it will replace, according to C-Tran.
McMillan also took a bus tour of the corridor Thursday afternoon. The Vine is expected to open in late 2016, according to C-Tran.
Bus rapid transit is gaining significant traction across the country, McMillan said. Other systems have popped up in many major cities, she said, though The Vine is the first such line in the Portland-Vancouver metro area.
It may not be the last: Planners in Oregon have floated something similar for a major corridor between Portland and Gresham.
“I think people are realizing it’s flexible. It has a lot of the advantages similar to light rail without the price tag,” McMillan said.
Supporters of The Vine hope the system will revitalize Vancouver’s Fourth Plain corridor. Public investment in infrastructure often leads to private investment, Leavitt said.
Officials also noted the importance of the system to Clark College, where many see access and parking as perpetual problems.
“This is a win-win for the community, a win-win for Clark College,” said college President Bob Knight.
McMillan: I-5 project in local hands
In an interview, McMillan also discussed another major transportation project that didn’t fare so well: the Columbia River Crossing. The proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement folded for good last year, doomed by eroding political support and, ultimately, no funding.
From the FTA’s standpoint, the CRC is “not in our pipeline,” McMillan said. The FTA could play a role in some future effort, she said, but not until the region is ready.
“It is going to take the local communities and both states to pull together a second proposal,” McMillan said. “That’s not going to come from the federal government.”
What sort of path a future I-5 Bridge project would face depends on what it looks like, McMillan said. Officials have said they could draw from some studies and documents left over from the CRC. But those materials have a finite window of viability, McMillan said.