February 8, 2006
With little discussion, area transportation leaders voted unanimously Tuesday evening to forge ahead with a $1.9 million, two-year study of high-capacity transit options for Clark County.
While cynics will see the plan as a barely disguised scheme to rekindle the hopes for light rail here, the study will examine at least three types of systems light rail, trolley and bus rapid transit and where they might go, said Dean Lookingbill, Southwest Washington Regional Transportation Council director. "We are going to look across all of these modes," he said.
A 2002 bistate effort called the I-5 Transportation and Trade Partnership Study recommended a high-capacity transit loop along Interstate 5, state Highway 500 and Interstate 205. In early 2003 and again in 2004, the transportation council asked for federal money to study the idea. It was not approved until 2005.
There was little to go over Tuesday, as the federal portion just shy of $1.5 million was earmarked in 2005 and is still available.
Still to be determined is how the council will pay for the $372,000 local match required as a condition of the federal money.
"I think we need to move ahead with this," said Vancouver Mayor Royce Pollard, who called Lookingbill's summary of the issue "an excellent piece of paper."
The lone question was posed by Clark County Commissioner Steve Stuart, who wanted to know about the opportunity for public input into the study. Lookingbill said that would be "a major piece" of the work.
Although the study money is earmarked as the "I-5/I-205/SR-500 Transit Loop," that apparently is not a foregone conclusion; other corridors, such as Mill Plain Boulevard, would also be examined, Lookingbill said.
Voters in 1995 soundly defeated a proposal for a sales and motor vehicle excise tax increase to pay for an extension of TriMet's MAX system across the Columbia River. Today, the MAX Yellow Line ends at the Expo Center, a mile south of Vancouver.
While the system's northward progress stalled there, MAX has seen constant expansion since 1995, including the Red Line to Portland International Airport, thereby bringing tracks to a couple miles south of Washington in the I-205 corridor.
Much more is in store for MAX: President Bush's new budget request includes more than $107 million for light-rail projects in the Portland area, including $80 million for an 8-mile extension along I-205 south of Portland, and $27.6 million for a 14.7-mile commuter line in the Wilsonville-Beaverton corridor in Washington County.
Tuesday's move by the transportation council authorizes Lookingbill to secure the federal grant, and is one of the earliest in what would have to be a years-long series of steps leading to some type of high-capacity transit plan.
There are many questions to be answered. And light rail is not necessarily the answer for Clark County, Lookingbill said, adding, "There are some new ways of looking at this."