C-TRAN is at it again

ClarkCountyToday.com, Editor Ken Vance

Public transportation agency continues its agenda in spite of long-standing majority opposition of Clark County citizens

VANCOUVER — In the fall of 2014, after one of my many editorials in The Reflector Newspaper critical of C-TRAN, I was invited to lunch with then C-TRAN Executive Director Jeff Hamm and Scott Patterson, then C-TRAN’s director of development and public affairs.

Hamm has since retired, and replaced by current Chief Executive Officer Shawn Donaghy, and Patterson is now the chief external affairs officer for C-TRAN, Clark County’s public transportation agency. I remember the lunch vividly because we were discussing two things that I have strong opinions about — Bus Rapid Transit and light rail on a third crossing over the Columbia River. In the interest of accuracy, here is how I characterized the meeting in a column I wrote for The Reflector in February 2015.

“I had lunch last fall with C-TRAN Executive Director and CEO Jeff Hamm and Scott Patterson, C-TRAN’s director of development and public affairs. Both are extremely accomplished, educated and capable individuals.

“At one point during the lunch, we touched on the third bridge issue that Clark County has and will continue to deal with. Hamm, and I’m paraphrasing, said matter-of-factly that as a public transportation guy he doesn’t see any point in building a bridge that doesn’t have a light rail component. Patterson has spent several years of his life and career working diligently on the BRT program.

“Maybe saying light rail and BRT is their ‘agenda’ is a little strong, but I’m convinced it’s their educated belief that light rail and BRT is what’s best for Clark County and I think they’re very comfortable stating that. And, I’m very comfortable that their insight and expertise is greater than mine so I allow for the possibility that they are right. However, the majority of Clark County residents (voters) disagree on both issues and so do I.’’

I believe, considering our decidedly different perspectives on public transportation, I treated them with more than an ample amount of respect and I still try to. However, my disagreement with them is even stronger today than it was then, four years ago.

The subject of Bus Rapid Transit is back on the front burner here in Clark County. Led by the guidance of Donaghy and Patterson, C-TRAN was successful in its efforts to build the Fourth Plain Vine. And now, the agency appears to be weeks or months away from getting approval to build a second BRT line, this one along Mill Plain Blvd. And, at this week’s C-TRAN board meeting, Patterson said they already have a third BRT corridor planned for the future.

ClarkCountyToday.com reporter Chris Brown has a full account of this week’s board meeting:

What absolutely makes me see red, is that these decisions on BRT are being made against the will of the majority of Clark County residents. Brown’s story details a great deal of consistent citizen opposition to BRT over the years yet C-TRAN is on the verge of their second project and already has plans for a third. And, don’t tell me the fact that they’re planning to use mostly Federal grant dollars and state transportation funding (in addition to C-TRAN’s local funds budget) for the $50 million project should buy our silence. Tax dollars are tax dollars, no matter where they come from. And, trust me, C-TRAN bleeds Clark County citizens for more than their fair share of tax dollars.

I don’t expect C-TRAN officials to do an about-face and bow to the will of the people. Like Hamm told me 4-plus years ago, they’re public transportation folks and they’re always going to push for projects like Bus Rapid Transit and light rail. But, C-TRAN’s Board of Directors is made up of elected officials. And, far too many times over the years, the members of that Board of Directors have given C-TRAN officials a rubber stamp for basically whatever they want to do.

In my aforementioned February 2015 editorial in The Reflector, I included some public comments made by Clark County citizens at a Jan. 13 C-TRAN board meeting. I offer those here as further representation of the feelings many have about our transportation agency:

“Several citizens passionately spoke at the Jan. 13 meeting. Carolyn Crain said she was “disgusted’’ with the actions of the board members. Margaret Tweet said the board members were “robbing’’ the citizens of their representation. Mark Engleman said “this place is on fire’’ and that there “is a lot of anger’’ out there. Josephine Wentzel said the board had “silenced’’ the voice of the people. Thomas Hahn called for the end of the “tyranny.’’ Susan Rasmussen, a La Center resident, said she felt like “throwing tea in the Columbia River.’’ I agreed with all of those citizens.’’

At this week’s meeting, Tweet was the only citizen present to make comments to the board (and those are included in Brown’s report). That tells me when it’s time for the board to vote on the Mill Plain Vine, they will rubber stamp it just as they and previous board members have done in the past.

For those of you who want to know who the elected officials are currently on the C-TRAN Board of Directors, follow this link:

https://www.c-tran.com/about-c-tran/c-tran-board-information/board-of-directors

If you have an opinion on their upcoming vote on the Mill Plain Vine, give them a call. If you want to hold them accountable for their vote, remember them at election time.

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About The Author

Ken Vance got his start in the newspaper industry in 1987 as a reporter at The Columbian Newspaper in Vancouver. Vance graduated from Stevenson High School in Stevenson, WA, and attended Clark College in Vancouver. He worked for The Columbian from 1987-2001. He was most recently a staff member of The Reflector Newspaper in Battle Ground, where he served as editor since 2010 and reporter since 2007. Vance’s work in the newspaper industry has won him multiple awards, including a first place award from the Society of Professional Journalists for in-depth reporting.

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