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News / Business / Clark County Business

C-Tran breaks ground on Vancouver’s second bus rapid transit line

By Anthony Macuk, Columbian business reporter
Published: September 28, 2021, 7:39pm
4 Photos
C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy, left center with shovel, embraces Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle at the Clark College Columbia Tech Center campus as they celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Mill Plain Bus Rapid Transit line Tuesday afternoon.
C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy, left center with shovel, embraces Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle at the Clark College Columbia Tech Center campus as they celebrate the groundbreaking for the new Mill Plain Bus Rapid Transit line Tuesday afternoon. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

C-Tran’s second bus rapid transit line is officially on the way.

The agency held a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday to mark the start of construction on the 9.9-mile line, which will run along Mill Plain Boulevard from downtown Vancouver to the Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver.

The line is expected to begin service in 2023.

C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy welcomed guests to the ceremony at the parking lot behind the Clark College Columbia Tech Center building, where the future Mill Plain Transit Center will be built to serve as the line’s eastern terminus.

The $50 million project is financed in part by a $24.9 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, which the agency pledged last year and officially awarded last week. The remaining cost is covered by a mix of sources including C-Tran, the state Regional Mobility Grant program and a federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant.

FTA administrator Nuria Fernandez said the line will provide a stronger link between Clark County’s two largest employment areas and provide faster transit access for residents traveling to medical appointments and recreational destinations.

Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, who chairs C-Tran’s board of directors, highlighted the performance of the agency’s first BRT line, the Vine. The line produced immediate and permanent gains in ridership, she said, as well as increased development along the Fourth Plain corridor.

Clark College President Karin Edwards said the new line, like the Vine before it, will provide substantial transit access improvements for students.

“I’m glad what was done on Fourth Plain is going to be replicated here,” she said.

The new line will primarily replace C-Tran’s Route 37, serving 37 new stations along the Mill Plain corridor. It will use the existing Turtle Place bus station in downtown Vancouver as its western terminus, overlapping with the Vine.

Construction of the Mill Plain Transit Center will begin later this year, according to a press release from C-Tran, and work on the other stations is set to begin in January. The primary contractor is Battle Ground-based Tapani Inc., which also helped build out the Vine.

BRT network

The Vine debuted in 2017 and runs along the Fourth Plain corridor between downtown Vancouver and Vancouver Mall. It provides frequent service using 60-foot articulated buses and special platforms designed for front- and rear-door boarding, with fares paid in advance.

Vine buses mingle with regular traffic rather than operating in reserved lanes or a separate right of way like in a classical BRT system, but the buses have the ability to jump to the front of the queue at some traffic lights, along with other improvements aimed at speeding up the ride.

The Mill Plain BRT line will follow the same model and will likely use the same name — or at least, that’s where things appear to be headed. Fernandez called it a “second Vine line” at Tuesday’s ceremony, but the posters and commemorative trinkets at the event all still used the Mill Plain BRT moniker.

C-Tran chief external affairs officer Scott Patterson told The Columbian last year that the line would likely bear the Vine name and that C-Tran planned to introduce color designations for its BRT corridors. The agency is still figuring out a final plan for naming and branding, according to officials at Tuesday’s event.

Planning for the Mill Plain line began almost immediately after the first line opened, following a blueprint laid out in a 2008 study from the Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council, which envisioned a trio of BRT lines radiating out from downtown Vancouver along the Fourth Plain, Mill Plain and Highway 99 corridors.

Multiple speakers at Tuesday’s event emphasized a desire to keep the momentum going and add the envisioned Highway 99 line to the network sooner rather than later.

“Mill Plain is the second branch of the Vine, but it will not be the last,” said Clark County Councilor Temple Lentz, who serves as vice chair of C-Tran’s board of directors.

The Vine was the first BRT line in the Portland metro region, but the Mill Plain line will be the third; TriMet began construction last year on the Division Transit Project, a BRT line that will run along the Southeast Division Street corridor between downtown Portland and Gresham and is scheduled to open next year. McEnerny-Ogle commended the TriMet project in her remarks at Tuesday’s ceremony.

“I do want it to be known, though,” she added, “we were the first.”

This story has been updated to clarify the funding sources for the Mill Plain BRT project.

Columbian business reporter