Political Beat

C-Tran in the spotlight in Olympia

It’s been four months since C-Tran inked a contract with TriMet to operate light rail in Vancouver as part of the Columbia River Crossing project. But the controversial deal is still very much on the minds of the CRC’s strongest opponents.

A bill introduced by state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, takes square aim at a disputed eminent domain clause in the contract. Senate Bill 6125 received a hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday.

Benton’s bill is short and to the point. Actually, the entire thing is one paragraph:

“No private property shall be taken or damaged for public or private use that is to be transferred for use or possession by a governmental agency of another state. In the event of conflict between the provisions of this chapter and any other act, the provisions of this chapter shall govern.”

The C-Tran-TriMet contract includes a clause allowing C-Tran’s eminent domain authority to be used for TriMet to acquire property in Washington as part of the proposed Interstate 5 Bridge replacement’s light rail component. Critics have said that amounts to C-Tran ceding its rights to another state. Not so, C-Tran officials say.

“Washington property owners shouldn’t be forced to defend their property rights against a state, locality or transit authority that they have no voice in choosing,” Benton said in a released statement.

It wasn’t the first time Clark County’s transit agency has found the spotlight in Olympia this year. Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, said this about C-Tran during a transportation panel discussion earlier this month:

“They will now be taking orders from TriMet in Oregon,” Orcutt said.

Orcutt’s comments and Benton’s bill show that the ghost of the CRC still lurks in the halls of the Capitol, despite Washington pulling out last year.

All this for a project that remains in limbo. After the CRC’s apparent demise and resurrection in 2013, the project may not live to see the end of 2014. Oregon lawmakers, now mulling an Oregon-led version of the CRC, have balked at doubling down on the $2.7 billion project. The Oregon Legislature convenes in February.

Eric Florip

I'm the environment/transportation reporter for The Columbian newspaper in Vancouver, Wash. Contact me at eric.florip@columbian.com or 360-735-4541.

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