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Thursday, June 1, 2023
June 1, 2023

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In Our View: Transit center at Library Square sensible idea

The Columbian

Among several proposals in recent years for parcels of land next to Vancouver Community Library, a transit center is the most sensible. City councilors have wisely endorsed the plan as a way to help move Vancouver toward a vibrant future.

For years, the 3-acre lot between C Street and Interstate 5 has been a bit of a pockmark on the downtown area. While the city has grown around it, the area known as Library Square has remained stuck between the Vancouver of the past and the city of the future, waiting for a forward-looking idea.

An auto dealership on the site was torn down in 2009. Plans for a parking garage topped by offices and residences and, later, an elementary school, did not come to fruition. Because of that, the land is available to play a role in a replacement Interstate 5 Bridge. Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle envisions a transit center — the terminus to an extension of Portland’s light rail and a hub for C-Tran’s bus rapid transit lines. Under the current plans, the site is near the base of the replacement bridge.

Whatever details are included in an eventual bridge, the purpose of a span and surrounding infrastructure will be to improve transit throughout the area.

“People will need to move around,” McEnerny-Ogle said about the proposal. “How do we help them do that and live and work and play and shop and have a job? This is just part of that system.”

Nothing about a replacement bridge — including light rail — has been finalized. But as the process moves forward and the possibility of light rail increases, there is no harm in developing plans for where the tracks will go and where the system will end.

With that in mind, there are many reasons to applaud the city for moving forward with purchase of the land:

  • Downtown Vancouver has few parcels available for large development. And the proximity to I-5 makes Library Square a logical spot for a piece of the replacement bridge project.
  • The city of Vancouver is purchasing five parcels for $12 million. The parcels have been valued at $18 million to $20 million. Depending on the terms of the deal, city officials could use the area for different development if plans for a transit center do not work out.
  • If a transit center is constructed, including a Park & Ride facility, it could solve the problem of inadequate parking at the library next door. When Vancouver Community Library was built in 2006, a parking structure was expected to follow but never materialized.

The city of Vancouver has been aggressive in shaping development in recent years. Most notable among current projects is the Heights District development on land the city purchased in 2017. While philosophical arguments can be held about government’s role in development, it is sensible for elected officials who work for the public to have a hand in major projects that help shape a city.

Regarding a transit center, C-Tran’s Laura Merry said: “We’re excited for the possibilities that this location offers our community. A strong transportation network boosts economic development and quality of life, and we certainly support the city’s efforts in planning for the future of our region.”

The benefits of the proposal can be seen with comparisons to former plans for an elementary school. Placing a school next to an interstate comes with numerous environmental health concerns; but a transit center would effectively meld with the immediate area’s current use.

From an economic, strategic and proximity standpoint, a transit center at Library Square is sensible.