Opinion: Why doesn’t the C-TRAN Board fight for our cheaper, faster BRT on Interstate Bridge?

C-Tran BRT seats 50 percent more people than MAX light rail

John Ley
For Clark County Today

Why isn’t the C-TRAN Board of Directors fighting to have C-TRAN provide the high-capacity cross river transit service, for the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) project? Aren’t each of the board members obligated to serve the best interests of Clark County citizens and our C-TRAN mass transit service?

Why aren’t they telling the truth about C-TRAN offering lower cost service via their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, compared to the much higher cost of TriMet’s light rail?

Why isn’t the C-TRAN Board of Directors fighting to have C-TRAN provide the high-capacity cross river transit service, for the Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) project?
File photo

The Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) team is telling people that transit currently serves 1.7 percent of Columbia River crossings. They are projecting a fantasy – 26,000 to 33,000 transit passengers on the I-5 corridor across the river by 2045. They have yet to show how many buses and trains the 26,000 people would need each day.

TriMet revealed to the 16-member Bi-state Bridge Committee of legislators last week they expect the light rail component of the IBR would cost between $1 billion and $1.3 billion to build. You could buy 1,300 of the double-articulated BRT buses or 2,600 regular buses for that price.

C-TRAN offers the only cross river transit service, so the board should know the reality. Ridership across the Columbia has declined significantly, but the decline began a decade ago. The board cut service significantly a year ago. We’re down below 1,000 boarding riders a day on C-TRAN’s express bus service to Portland.

The IBR has chosen TriMet’s light rail, saying it is cheaper to operate on a “per passenger” basis. The C-TRAN Board knows better. C-TRAN’s Vine BRT costs $5.44 per boarding passenger in 2020. They originally told the Federal Transit Administration their cost per boarding passenger would be $3.68.

Two years ago, the TriMet MAX light rail cost per boarding passenger was 51 percent higher, at $8.24 per boarding rider. TriMet reports in 2021 the cost per boarding rider on their MAX light rail was $9.08.

C-TRAN’s BRT buses offer better service than MAX light rail. The Yellow Line travels 14 miles per hour because it has to stop every mile. Our C-TRAN express buses travel nearly double that speed, and would travel even faster if allowed to use I-5 shoulders for bus-on-shoulder service. How many of our citizens want to travel 14 mph?

The BRT buses offer seats for 60 percent of their passengers – 50 percent more than the MAX Yellow Line trains, which only seats 40 percent of their passengers. Would any six of the 10 board members be willing to stand up for their entire meeting? That’s what the IBR team wants – 60 percent of transit passengers to be forced to do to.

C-TRAN buses could offer faster express transit service from all over Clark County, whereas TriMet’s MAX can only serve people where the rails are put down. The Cascade Policy Institute has documented the failure of TriMet light rail to attract promised ridership.

The IBR team is proposing to spend $5 billion. They will replace a 3-lane bridge with another 3-lane bridge. Travel times for Clark County residents will double on I-5 by 2045. It will take an hour to go from the I-205 interchange at Salmon Creek, to the I-405 interchange at the Fremont Bridge after spending $5 billion.

None of this makes sense. A BRT line could be built for $50 million. A TriMet representative told the committee of 16 legislators providing oversight to the IBR they expect the light rail proposal to cost between $1 billion and $1.3 billion. That’s a 50 percent increase from the failed CRC a decade ago.

The C-TRAN board should fight to offer our cheaper, better, and faster BRT service for the Interstate Bridge project. They should also fight to stop the waste of $5 billion of our tax dollars.

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  1. george

    First let me say, I do not ride the bus at all. That said. the cost to have light rail added to the crossing, I am sure is astronomical. As I drive through Portland and vicinity and the streets of Vancouver, noticing the bus ridership does not, in my opinion justify the cost. I was driving today and there were three people on the bus, one was the driver. They are tearing up Mill Plain for the new bus line, and if only one or two are on the bus at any one time, then, after the price of the bus, maintaining the bus, fuel for the bus and paying the driver, they would same loads of money offering something like curbside taxies or LIFT, Noticing the Max lines across the river, you can see a long max train and it may have five riders, and after the new reports, they might not be paying. Yes the morning commute on the bus from the transit centers have good ridership, but keep the busses and forget the astronomical coat of a light rail on an already expensive bridge replacement.

  2. Margaret

    Vehicles of various sizes to meet demand, operating in shared lanes with other vehicles, or possibly on shoulder, are the most efficient and economical way to serve residents in WA and OR. CTRAN has been serving the small number of transit riders, 1.7% of trips across the Columbia River, using standard 40′ busses and vans in shared lanes with other vehicles on I-5 South for years.

    On I-5 North in OR, where buses only share with carpools, and exclude freight and all others, the congestion is worse.

    None of the grandiose predictions about huge increases in transit ridership made by the CRC I-5 bridge project planners in earlier years have come true yet. The even more unrealistic projections about the 1000 CTRAN bus riders today magically increasing to as many as 33,000 do not seem supported by current ridership or trends of working remotely.

    Busses, and vans are flexible in vehicle size and routes to adjust to the demand. If demand does increase substantially in the future, larger 60′ articulated BRT buses could be used.

    We need to make the most of the limited vehicle lane space available and planned. Running 40′ or 60′ BRT buses with just a handful of passengers is not good stewardship.

    Around 2005, CTRAN responded to criticisms about 40′ busses running with few passengers by offering smaller buses. Now CTRAN is offering Current vans to for routes with fewer riders. Flexibility is key to meeting changing demands and trends.
    Fixed Track light rail with overhead lines early cost estimates of $1.3 BILLION (before typical cost overruns). The tolls would be extremely high if light rail is unnecessarily added to an I-5 bridge replacement.

  3. Karen

    John Ley has done so much to educate all of us on the IBR over the last 10 years. I cannot wait to vote for him for LD 18 position 2. He never quits. This guy is a fighter!


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