As new head of C-Tran board, BG councilor pushes back against light rail


Battle Ground City Councilor Adrian Cortes was appointed chair of the C-Tran board of directors for 2019 on Jan. 8. He was vice-chair last year after being appointed by Mayor Mike Dalesandro in 2018 to represent the city. Among other things, Cortes is pushing back against light rail and making sure vulnerable populations can get around town.  

Cortes said he wasn’t expecting to receive the nomination and eventual appointment, though he appreciated the trust his fellow board members placed in him to help lead their work.

Cortes, a special education teacher at Camas High School, said part of his reason for being on the board was that many of his students utilize public transportation in getting around. He also pointed to the late Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley, who was active in C-Tran, as part of the inspiration to request the initial board appointment.

“He talked to me so much about (C-Tran) I felt that I was kind of a de facto board member,” Cortes remarked, referencing the volumes of information the former councilor provided.

Bridge business

Cortes acknowledged that the work to replace the aging Interstate 5 bridge was a continued concern of the board, referencing recent comments by Gov. Jay Inslee on the inevitability of light rail being a component for any project. Cortes reiterated that C-Tran’s stand was having the mass transit component of any replacement being bus rapid transit, as the agency has already invested heavily into the concept with its Vine venture.

Cortes hoped he would have a chance to sit down with Inslee to keep the local perspective in mind, noting that “Nowhere in our resolution … do we talk about light rail at all.”

Cortes said he was disappointed with Inslee’s statement, equating the demand for light rail as a couple arguing over the color to paint their new house’s walls “before they even figure out if they can even qualify to buy the house in the first place.”

What’s on the horizon

Cortes said one of the most immediate tasks for C-Tran would be the relocation of the agency’s administrative offices to a new building next to the Washington State Patrol offices. That move, scheduled to take place in May or June, would allow for expansion at the Fourth Plain Boulevard operations center.

Cortes said the agency was able to get a “great deal” on the former Gifford Pinchot National Forest headquarters, costing about $6.85 million according to an agency release. The new facilities will move board meetings from downtown Vancouver to a more central location in the county south of State Route 500.

Other future plans include redevelopment of the Fisher’s Landing Transit Center which could feature residential and commercial development to make a “live/work” setup.

Expanding The Vine bus rapid transit to Mill Plain Boulevard was another project for the agency Cortes mentioned, adding C-Tran was hoping to secure grant funds to aid in the rollout. There is also the possibility of expanding the service to Hazel Dell.

Keeping vulnerable populations in mind

Cortes didn’t want the agency to lose sight of C-Van, its paratransit service that provides transportation to the elderly and those with disabilities. Given his special education background, the service was “very near and dear to (his) heart,” noting that 80 operators provided between 800 to 1,000 trips on weekdays and 300 to 500 on the weekends.

In 2017 the service considered potentially dropping its C-Van passes, requiring riders to pay per-trip; that change was eventually tabled and Cortes has not seen it make a reappearance on any board agendas during his tenure.

“I think we need to not lose focus on making sure that service is there, accessible for that segment of the population and make sure that they’re not lost when it comes to expanding all of our other general route services,” Cortes said.

Giving Battle Ground a seat at the big-city table 

Cortes stresses that Battle Ground was a part of a “very robust” system. Sales tax collected from the city for C-Tran was close to $2.7 million in 2017, about 5 percent of the total agency-wide.

What’s more, following a ridership evaluation last year C-Tran made changes to some of its routes including Route 7 which covers Battle Ground, increasing the frequency of stops.

Cortes relayed an anecdote where one weekend he saw more than a dozen youth waiting for the Route 7 stop near the Vancouver Clinic.

“The demand is definitely there, especially in our city,” he said.

Cortes also noted the recent unveiling of a Battle Ground-themed C-Tran bus, saying that being first was a signal of sorts for the city’s rising prominence countywide.  It is the first of what the agency hopes will be seven of such for each of Clark County’s cities and town. 

“Battle Ground is growing, both in population and in terms of economic activity,” Cortes said. 

Though new routes around Battle Ground aren’t on the horizon, there has been some talk about expanding frequency on the Yacolt route, which currently only heads to Clark County’s lone town once a day.