Light rail will be part of the plan for the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement, bringing MAX trains into Vancouver from Portland.
The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program, along with C-Tran, TriMet and Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, all agreed that light rail is the best option because there is a greater demand, the system will maximize trips across the river, and light rail aligns with equity and climate change goals.
The MAX trains will also be able to easily connect with Vancouver’s expanding Vine bus system, according to C-Tran CEO Shawn Donaghy.
The program considered three options: bus on shoulder, bus rapid transit and light rail transit. The light rail option will accommodate 266 passengers in a two-car train while a bus can hold 100 passengers, according to the program.
“Light rail does have a higher demand than bus rapid transit,” said John Willis, deputy program manager for the bridge project.
Light rail provides more competitive travel times compared with bus trips that require a transfer at the Portland Expo Center — and provide a higher chance to attract federal dollars compared with bus options, according to Willis.
The alignment of the light rail tracks will follow I-5, then traveling south of East Evergreen Boulevard to end near the Vancouver Community Library.
The I-5 alignment will also have fewer property impacts compared with an option with MAX lines running throughout downtown Vancouver, according to Willis.
The program will continue to refine the plans as the impacts and benefits are better understood, Willis said. The announcement is a “sneak preview” of the modified locally preferred alternative, or a complete plan for the bridge, at the May 5 meeting.
“We believe that Evergreen provides the greatest opportunity to connect our modes, what we have in C-Tran’s network with TriMet’s light rail system, with the goal there to avoid displacement or disruption of an already vibrant city streetscape in downtown Vancouver,” Donaghy said.
McEnerny-Ogle said that light rail “adds a new and expediting option to our toolbox. It complements C-Tran’s existing and our planned system.”
The city of Vancouver’s climate plan calls for net zero emissions by 2040, and the light rail option is the best way to get there, according to McEnerny-Ogle.
Not all politicians agree with the light rail option, which was a major reason the last bridge replacement effort failed in 2013.
U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, responded to the decision with disappointment.
“I could not be more disappointed by today’s announcement that I-5 Bridge replacement officials are advancing two final project options that do not include Bus Rapid Transit, while both would extend Portland’s light rail system into Clark County,” she wrote in a statement on Thursday. “This decision flies in the face of Southwest Washington voters who have soundly and repeatedly rejected bringing Portland’s light rail to Washington state along with the massive cost, river traffic limitations and public safety concerns that come with it.”
There have been three votes related to light rail in Clark County but none specifically gave voters the choice of a yes-or-no vote on light rail itself.
In 1995, Clark County voters rejected a 0.3 percent increase in sales and motor vehicle excise taxes for Clark County’s share of a proposed light rail line from Clackamas Town Center to the 99th Street area of Hazel Dell by a 2-1 margin. In 2012, voters rejected a proposed 0.1 percent sales tax increase by C-Tran to fund operation and maintenance of a MAX light rail line into the county with 56.51 percent of voters opposed. In 2013, an advisory measure on whether the Clark County Commissioners should oppose light rail if there was not a countywide vote on the project was approved with 68.39 percent of the vote
Security is a concern with the light rail option, and the program is still assessing options to provide a safe MAX train as it will cross jurisdictions over the river.
Officials are weighing three options for the new bridge’s auxiliary lanes, or short side lanes that give drivers distance to speed up or slow down before merging onto I-5. The main benefit of the lanes is safety and reduction of crashes.
The program looked at data models based mostly on 2019 data to assess the three options: If no bridge was built, a bridge with one auxiliary lane and a bridge with two auxiliary lanes. The model looks at what bridge metrics could be in 2045.
One of the biggest takeaways from the model suggests that travel times will not be much different in a one-auxiliary-lane option: about a two- to three-minute difference in commute in 2045 compared with no new bridge.
But in a two-lane option, while the morning travel time would not be much different than if no new bridge is built, the evening rush hour congestion would virtually disappear by 2045.
Roger Millar, CEO of the Washington State Department of Transportation, said that while the lanes don’t do much for the traffic, they improve safety, which is the main goal.
The program is still looking into models of how the auxiliary lanes will reduce the number and severity of crashes.
The final decision for auxiliary lanes will be in a May 5 meeting to present the modified locally preferred alternative.