After some hemming and hawing, the C-Tran board approved a $330,000 contract Tuesday night to hire engineering firm BergerABAM to assist in the preparation of a vote on high capacity transit financing for Fall 2012.

BergerABAM will serve as the local administrator of a state-mandated expert review panel that will provide oversight of the proposal.

C-Tran Board members Tim Leavitt (left), Bart Hansen, and Tom Mielke discuss the option of an advisory vote on light rail.

The step is necessary because C-Tran is planning to use the funding authority of Washington State’s High Capacity Transit Act RCW 81.104 to propose a 0.1 percent sales tax for the operation and maintenance (O&M) of light rail and bus rapid transit in Clark County.

Gov. Chris Gregoire, transportation secretary Paula Hammond, and the chairs of the House and Senate Transportation Committees in Olympia will select the ERP, but the cost of facilitating the work falls to C-Tran.

According to Scott Patterson, C-Tran’s director of development and public affairs, a team of five BergerABAM employees will handle most of the behind-the-scenes work with C-Tran staff and the executive review panel, including creation of a website, to get the measure ready for board approval by August. Patterson added that he hopes C-Tran won’t have to pay the full amount. Members of the ERP will not be paid.

“We are planning a scenario where there is a labor-intensive amount of work, but we hope to come in less than that,” Patterson said.

Contract cost takes Mielke by surprise

County Commissioner Tom Mielke expressed sticker shock at the amount of BergerABAM’s contract, even though it is less than the $500,000 C-Tran had budgeted.

“It seems an awful lot of money to pay someone to work less than six months,” he said.

Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt responded by saying there should be no surprise at the cost of the ERP. It was a consequence of the board deciding in 2010 to split sales tax requests for bus and paratransit service and HCT into two separate votes.

“It’s not surprising that it is a costly venture,” Leavitt said.

But what concerned Mielke even more was that C-Tran’s ability to bring forward a vote would be at the mercy of the ERP getting its work done on time. Mielke made it clear that he wants some kind of vote on light rail on the November ballot, because the public expects it.

“Do we feel that there will be time to bring this to the ballot?” he asked.

Leavitt says the people can vote, as long as it is ‘non-binding’

Leavitt expressed his own reservations about the contract, but for different reasons. Leavitt desires a nonbinding vote and to rally other revenue sources. A non-binding referendum is merely consultative or advisory and the governement can choose to ignore the results of the vote.

Leavitt wondered if the board should commit to the expert review process only to identify alternative funding sources for operation and maintenance of light rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) later.

“Should we be approving for a expert review contract?” he asked. “Is there a way to stop the process should this board decide otherwise to pursue 81.104?”

Leavitt referred to the desire of U.S. Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, for a vote on light rail to be put before the people of Clark County.

“Why would we not approve an advisory vote (non-binding vote) prior to November asking them to vote on LRT and BRT like our congresswoman has asked?” said Leavitt.

Mielke said he is less concerned with Herrera Beutler than the Federal Transit Authority denying funds due to lack of local support.

Battle Ground City Council member Bill Ganley said he is sure the board had already decided the issue of using RCW 81.104. He said if the expert review process for the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail Project (CRC) is any indication, the board shouldn’t worry.

“I’m hopeful that we are ready to go forward and decide what do to,” he said. “The CRC expert review got to the quick.”

C-Tran Board member Steve Stuart suggests that BergerABAM's contract to ensure the expert review process is completed on time.

County Commissioner Marc Boldt reminded the board that the reason it gave for delaying the high capacity transit vote was that it needed more time to gather information. He said the C-Tran Board is the policy maker in this equation.

“If we get our act together, we push the ERP, they’ll get the work done and we’ll have a ballot,” Boldt said.

Mielke made a motion to prepare an advisory vote as a back-up plan in case the ERP missed its deadlines. There was no second.

Leavitt then made a motion to approve BergerABAM’s contract as long as staff included a termination clause. County Commissioner Steve Stuart offered a friendly amendment that would make sure the contract would include timelines associated with going to vote.

Miekle asked to bring the topic of an advisory vote back up at next month’s board meeting.

“I think that the insurance is there,” Mielke said. “My fear is we are going to have egg on our face because we didn’t follow through.”

The motion to approve the contract passed unanimously.

See our continuing coverage of the Columbia River Crossing Light Rail project.

Do you have information to share on the CRC? To respond anonymously call 260-816-1426. To allow your comments to be used on COUV.COM call 260-816-1429.