Opinions vary among local leaders, regarding the potential sales tax increase to pay for a light rail extension from Portland to Vancouver.
C-TRAN Proposition No. 1, to be voted on in the November 6 General Election, would also pay the operations and maintenance costs of the Fourth Plain Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit project between downtown Vancouver and Westfield Vancouver Mall.
If approved, it would increase the sales and use tax by 0.1 percent, or one penny on a $10 purchase. The measure would raise an estimated $4.6 million annually, to fund the operations and maintenance cost for C-TRAN’s share of light rail transit through downtown Vancouver.
After those projects are completed, $1.2 million estimated annual savings from eliminating duplicated bus service would be reinvested in the system.
The light rail extension would be located between the Portland Expo Center and Clark Park & Ride (across the street from the Marshall Community Center, 1009 E. McLoughlin Blvd.). Light rail trains would travel on the I-5 replacement bridge (Columbia River Crossing).
Washougal leaders weigh in
City Councilman Dave Shoemaker said while he is neutral about the Fourth Plain project, he is philosophically opposed to light rail.
“It is inefficient and a very poor way to spend money,” he said after the council meeting last night. “You don’t get a return on investment. You always end up subsidizing it, because the fares will only pay 40 to 50 percent of the operating costs.”
Shoemaker said in almost all cities with light rail, insufficient funding is set aside for replacement of capital equipment and facilities.
“In 30 years, a horrendous bill will come due,” he said. “C-TRAN’s promises to have sufficient reserves don’t impress me,” he said.
“Busses are more flexible, and they have more capacity,” Shoemaker added. “It is easier to train the operators [of busses].”
Councilman Paul Greenlee said he is ambivalent about the ballot measure.
He generally supports funding for public transportation, such as bridges, highways, roads, ports and mass transit. However, Greenlee said with the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce and others opposing the measure, he would not support one side or the other.
“A number of pro-bus rapid transit people say this tax isn’t really needed; there are better alternatives for funding,” he said. “Generally speaking, I believe existing and foreseeable bus rapid transit is more flexible and cost-effective than light rail in the street right-of-way.”
Greenlee said one of the negatives of the ballot measure is that it involves a sales tax increase.
“Tax increases have not polled well in Clark County,” he said. “The anti-Columbia River Crossing forces would then claim that a ‘no’ vote on the sales tax increase trumps CRC. I do not believe that the failure of a local sales tax increase or of any local referenda does not, nor should not, trump the states, nor the national, interest in the Interstate [National Defense] Highway System.
I believe that we need CRC on I-5.
“As a worried emergency planner — subject to nightmares — the existing interstate bridge is unlikely to survive even a medium quake,” Greenlee added. “As an economic developer, I believe CRC will be positive for Camas and Washougal, for Clark and Cowlitz counties, and, in fact, for the entire I-5 corridor from Olympia, at least as far south as Eugene.”
Councilwoman Joyce Lindsay said she will vote to approve C-TRAN proposition No. 1.
“I think of this proposal as stepping up to the future in Clark County,” she said. “All of us in Southwest Washington are affected by the traffic situation along the I-5 corridor, and I believe that light rail will expedite traffic for commuters.
“Washougal is a bedroom community, and our workers go to work — for the most part — in Vancouver or Portland, so traffic congestion is an everyday issue for them.”
Mayor Sean Guard said he plans to vote in favor of the ballot measure.
“I have family who live here and work in downtown Portland,” he said. “They drive to 164th park & ride, get on a bus to go to Gateway and there they board the Max into downtown. If we had light rail in Vancouver — anywhere in Vancouver — they could cut one of those steps out and likely also pick up some time on both ends of the trip. I think that is a positive for anyone who uses the system.
“If it fails, we just stay the same way we are,” Guard added. “There could be potentially longer commutes and more crowding on the roadways at all hours, not just rush hour.”
He mentioned the sales tax increase as a downside to the measure.
“It could be a small loss of dollars in everyone’s pockets, but I don’t know that it would be a detriment to the city,” Guard said. “The sales tax would increase throughout the service area. I don’t see people driving to Yacolt or LaCenter to shop, to avoid the small increase in sales tax.”
Councilwoman Connie Jo Freeman, the local representative on the C-TRAN board of directors, said the high capacity transit project is flawed and should not be considered viable as it is. That includes light rail transit and bus rapid transit.
Freeman mentioned the Columbia River Crossing, with light rail transit, was determined to be the locally preferred alternative in 2008, before she was a board member.
“We are living through ‘The Great Recession,’” she said. “Spending must be cut, and alternatives to a project that will cost $3 billion plus approximately $7 billion in interest, must be found.
“Is the real problem the I-5 bridge itself, or is it congestion caused at the southbound bottleneck approaching downtown Portland?” Freeman added. “Do we want to spend $10 billion for a new bridge to include light rail transit for two percent of the commuters and then add tolls more than $8 per trip for each vehicle that crosses?”
She recommends fixing the bottleneck, improving the I-5 bridge, building bridges at the Port of Vancouver to relieve truck traffic on I-5, building another bridge to the east and dropping light rail transit.
Councilman Brent Boger said he remains open to transportation options related to light rail and the Columbia River Crossing, but he will vote against the ballot measure.
“I think, at best, it only marginally benefits Washougal,” he said. “The Bus Rapid Transit proposal goes to Vancouver Mall, not Fisher’s Landing where Washougal’s ridership passes through. Are people really going to drive from Washougal all of the way to downtown Vancouver, park, and get on light rail? I doubt it.”
Boger said he does not like the “gerrymandered” district.
“Large pieces of Clark County were removed from the Public Benefit District and disenfranchising voters from voting on the C-TRAN measure,” he said. “The residents of these areas do not get a vote on the matter, even though they will be paying the tax because they shop inside the district.”
Camas representatives voice opinions
Councilwoman Melissa Smith said the area is not ready for light rail or high capacity buses.
“There needs to be accurate and up-to-date data as to how many people are actually using the buses,” she said. “The economy has been flat for several years now, and the proposal for light rail and high capacity buses, was extremely aggressive. That part (the economy) has not come to fruition, and I surely don’t see any aggressive growth in the next five years.”
If the ballot measure fails, Smith said she hopes it does not impact East Clark County.
“We have a strong need for the buses to continue their main routes,” she said. “For some folks, this is the only transportation they have.”
Councilman Greg Anderson said he cannot support the funding to operate light rail.
“The current ballot measure collects funds from the wrong audience (county consumers), not the users or those who benefit from using light rail in Vancouver,” he said.
“A different funding mechanism should be found that puts the burden on the users/benefiters of the light-rail, not just because you buy something in a given boundary area,” Anderson added.
Town hall to be held tonight
Panelists are expected to include Leah Jackson, Mark Maggiora, Tim Kraft, Scott Patterson, Bill Turley, Tiffany Couch, Michael Ennis and Steve Stuart.
The forum, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Clark County, will be held today, at 6:15 p.m., in the Columbia Room, at the Fort Vancouver Regional Library, 901 “C” St., Vancouver. The doors will open at 6 p.m.
Marvin Case will serve as the moderator, and the C-TRAN Proposition No. 1 will be the only topic of discussion.
Public meetings will be held regarding proposed ballot measure
Open houses are scheduled for Thursday, from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Penguin Union Building, at Clark College, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, Vancouver; and Tuesday, Oct. 16, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., in the Battle Ground Community Center, 912 E. Main St.; and Wednesday, Oct. 17, from 6 to 7:30 p.m., on the second floor of the Fisher’s Landing Transit Center, 3510 S.E. 164th Ave., Vancouver.
For more information, call 695-0123 or visit www.c-tran.com.