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News / Business / Clark County Business

C-Tran CEO Donaghy airs I-5 Bridge replacement plan worries

Communication, station elevation, light rail focus, storage among concerns

By William Seekamp, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 22, 2022, 6:03am

C-Tran’s CEO Shawn Donaghy recently raised concerns about a breakdown in communication between the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program and C-Tran.

Donaghy, who spoke for roughly 25 minutes during the Sept. 13 C-Tran Board of Directors meeting, also raised concerns and frustrations about whether a proposed light rail station in Vancouver would be elevated, light rail activists within the bridge replacement team and where trains will be stored.

“There has been a lot of communication behind the scenes since (the modified locally preferred alternative passed), some things that have been a little concerning either in breakdowns in communication between IBR and partner agencies or maybe expectations of the program,” Donaghy said at the board meeting.

The project, arguably a political one more than an engineering one, relies on the backing of eight partner agencies, C-Tran being one of them. Although the agencies will not financially support the estimated $3.6 billion to $4.8 billion project, they play a key role in shaping what a new bridge across the Columbia River will look like.

Caught off guard

The biggest area of contention stemmed from whether the Evergreen Boulevard transit station — which is scheduled as light rail’s terminus in Vancouver — would be elevated or at grade.

“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,” Donaghy said.

Donaghy said they felt caught off guard as they were reaching a point where a decision would be made.

“We really didn’t get an opportunity to discuss it internally because we didn’t really know about it,” Donaghy told The Columbian. “We didn’t get an opportunity to share that with our board and get some feedback.”

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Interstate Bridge Replacement Program Administrator Greg Johnson said communication is not always perfect and that the bridge replacement team bears some of the responsibility for the communication error.

“On a megaproject like this, there are going to be some things that get missed,” Johnson said. “There’s going to be disagreements, but it doesn’t mean that things are skidding sideways; it just means that we do small course corrections to make sure our partners are on the same page with us.”

Johnson said he and Donaghy talked since the board meeting and cleared the air.

‘Right to refuse all of it’

Near the end of the Sept. 13 board meeting, Donaghy mentioned that C-Tran can refuse the new bridge.

“We want to do this in partnership. But the reality is that C-Tran has the right to refuse all of it. Period,” he said. “The reality is this is our public transportation benefit area, and no one can operate in our public transport area without our expressed approval or design action.”

Donaghy told The Columbian he did not say that to hang it over anyone’s head but rather to remind C-Tran directors it is within their power to not approve something that is not in the best interest of the region.

“I don’t see anything that he said as throwing down a gauntlet or something like that, but it just means that we have more communications, more conversations to be had,” Johnson said.

Other frustrations

Donaghy also voiced frustration with those within the bridge replacement team who worked on the failed Columbia River Crossing and have a singular public transport focus on light rail. Donaghy said that mindset does not reflect the program as a whole.

“It’s just when we go out and we talk about these things, I have some difficulty trying to have conversations with groups that are like ‘light rail is the answer,’ and I’m like, ‘light rail is an answer, it’s not the only answer,’ ” he said.

Johnson does not think there is a bias within the bridge replacement team.

“I don’t think that’s the case here, and we keep a strong eye to make sure we’re doing the right things and making sure that as we try and reach decisions we’re being inclusive of all viewpoints,” Johnson said.

The storage of light rail trains is another area of contention.

Donaghy is open to having an additional track where trains could sit for a bit but does not want an additional track where spare trains could be stored.

“This is our backyard,” Donaghy said. “You’re more than welcome to come and eat at our barbecue, but we’ll let you know where we’re going to put the grill.”

“I know you said backyard,” Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle added. “But we like to consider this our living room, and we don’t want them storing their trains next to our fireplace.”

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.

Columbian staff writer