A little more than a year after The Vine began rolling through Vancouver, C-Tran is taking steps to bring another bus rapid transit line to the city, this time on Mill Plain Boulevard.
On Tuesday, the C-Tran Board of Directors unanimously approved a $1.54 million contract with HDR Engineering Inc. of Vancouver for design services in the first phase of the Mill Plain Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit corridor.
The first phase will focus on a locally preferred alternative and is expected to take about a year to complete. The work will include developing a list of key alternatives to consider possible routing and alignment options and station locations, public and stakeholder outreach, and an environmental analysis.
Once a locally preferred alternative is selected, it’ll be brought to 15 percent design and negotiations for phase two of the project will begin.
“We are starting from scratch, to a certain degree,” Scott Patterson, C-Tran director of planning, development and public affairs, told the board on Tuesday. “We certainly know how BRT works and functions on the Fourth Plain corridor, and we do think there are some similarities but also some important differences — and some unique opportunities — that Mill Plain has.”
Bus rapid transit is designed for efficiency. It operates with 60-foot buses as opposed to traditional 40-foot buses. Passengers pay before boarding rather than once they step on. Buses also are allowed to jump the queue at certain street lights thanks to specialty signals.
The Vine runs from downtown Vancouver to Vancouver Mall and replaced Routes 4 and 44. It’s proven to be a popular service with C-Tran riders. C-Tran saw a 45 percent increase in ridership when comparing October and November of 2016 — when the Fourth Plain corridor was served by Route 4 — with October and November 2017 — when The Vine was running.
Mill Plain is one of C-Tran’s busiest transit corridors. More than 3,700 riders use Route 32 or 37, which service Mill Plain on a daily basis.
C-Tran knows it wants to build BRT along Mill Plain, but it’s not yet sure exactly what the route will look like.
Where should the eastern end of the route be? Does it make sense to go down Southeast 164th Avenue and stop at the Fisher’s Landing Transit Center? It is one of the agency’s busiest locations and is slated for an upgrade in the not too distant future. Or does it make more sense to stay on Mill Plain and extend the route further east to Southeast 192nd Avenue to get nearer to a rapidly developing portion of the city and serve Clark College at Columbia Tech Center?
In downtown Vancouver, should the new BRT share stations with The Vine, or should it get closer to the newly developed waterfront? How will the bus efficiently get through the congestion near Interstate 205 when traffic picks up?
These are just some of the considerations the agency will take up before ultimately selecting a locally preferred alternative for the future route during the Phase 1 process.
C-Tran plans to get public input via a corridor advisory committee, open houses, through social media campaigns and more to help define what the project could look like.
Once the preferred alternative is selected and approved by the board, the consultants will take it to a 15 percent design phase.
While The Vine cost about $58 million to build — roughly $7 million of which was paid for locally — C-Tran officials are aiming to build the Mill Plain BRT for $50 million or less. Doing so would allow the agency to take advantage of an expedited grant process by the Federal Transit Administration, Patterson told the board.
Although the potential Mill Plain Boulevard route is about twice the length of the Fourth Plain Boulevard route, the Mill Plain proposal might have a few things working in its favor in terms of costs compared with its elder sibling. When C-Tran built The Vine, it also had to build an expanded maintenance facility to handle the 60-foot articulating buses and had to move the Vancouver Mall Transit Center from the north side of the mall to the south side.
The major costs on Mill Plain will be in building the still-unknown number of BRT stations and purchasing however many buses are required to operate the route.
Since neither of those elements are yet clear, the final cost is uncertain, as well.