Tuesday, March 21, 2023
March 21, 2023

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In Our View: Support for light rail depends on transparency

The Columbian

There are valid reasons for opposing a proposed extension of Portland’s light-rail system into Vancouver as part of a new Interstate 5 Bridge. But we hope that discussions about the issue can rely on facts and transparency rather than fear-mongering, and we hope that organizers will heed the concerns of Clark County residents.

Two issues, in particular, drive apprehension about bringing MAX into Vancouver: Security and local control. Building support from residents on this side of the Columbia River will require that those issues be addressed.

Discussion of train-related crime is important, if often overstated. Demagogues attempt to stoke fear with rhetoric such as that delivered recently by congressional candidate Joe Kent, who called MAX an “Antifa superhighway into our district” and a “superhighway for crime.”

Kent’s concerns echo those of some residents, but they are ill-founded. If criminals wish to travel from Portland to Vancouver, they have multiple transportation options with or without light rail; if Portland residents worried about light rail from Vancouver being a “Proud Boys superhighway,” those concerns would be equally specious.

But the issue of security on MAX is a valid issue. As anybody who has used the system knows, there is little oversight on the trains. Fare inspectors are rare or nonexistent, and riders experiencing mental health crises are relatively common.

Willamette Week has reported that TriMet increased security personnel from 125 to 229 over the past two years and plans to hire 90 more. That is a good start, but more is required for a system that has 60 miles of track and 97 stations.

In addition, The Columbian reports that the Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office does not track crime statistics based on mode of transportation; with the MAX system having more than 38 million riders a year, it would seem that accurate information about risks is essential.

For security and other issues surrounding light rail’s extension into Clark County, it will be important for local residents to have input. The sense that Oregon interests are driving the bridge project permeates public opinion on this side of the river, creating a widespread belief that we are beholden to the whims of transportation officials who have no accountability to our residents.

In one example, preliminary plans recommend an elevated station at Evergreen Boulevard, which is expected to be the system’s terminus.

Shawn Donaghy, CEO of local transit agency C-Tran, said at an agency board meeting: “One of the things that concerned us a little bit was there was a pretty strong push from the program to only look at an elevated station at Evergreen; and I’ll be very frank that, C-Tran as a management staff, we are extremely opposed to an elevated station.” He then told The Columbian: “We really didn’t get an opportunity to discuss it internally because we didn’t really know about it. We didn’t get an opportunity to share that with our board and get some feedback.”

Subterfuge on the part of planners and TriMet officials is a sure way to undermine support from Clark County residents and throw the entire project into doubt.

None of this, of course, has been finalized. The Columbian’s Editorial Board has supported the inclusion of light rail on a new bridge, primarily because of the benefits in combating climate change. But maintaining that support will require that the needs of our community be effectively addressed.