C-Tran’s Mill Plain Vine project reached a significant milestone Friday when the Federal Transit Administration announced that it has allocated $24.9 million for the planned bus rapid transit line. The federal funding will cover approximately half of the project’s $50 million cost.
The $24.9 million allocation fully matches what C-Tran had requested for the project. The agency was confident it had a strong application, according to chief external affairs officer Scott Patterson, but the news came much sooner than expected; C-Tran had been hoping to hear back by the end of the year.
“We were surprised but also elated that they’ve announced it as soon as they have,” he said.
Patterson said the agency’s biggest concern was that the funding would be delayed for some reason, which would have pushed back the whole project timeline. But Friday’s announcement means the FTA has committed to having the funding available when construction begins next year.
The project is currently nearing the 60-percent design stage, Patterson said, so the next step will be to hold a workshop where the FTA will review the plans before giving permission to proceed to 100 percent. The workshop will hopefully happen this summer, Patterson said, with the 100-percent design stage targeted for early 2021 and construction breaking ground in the second quarter of the year.
The first Vine route entered service in 2017 and runs along the Fourth Plain corridor between downtown Vancouver and Vancouver Mall. The new line would serve the Mill Plain corridor, running from the same downtown terminus to a new transit center near the Clark College Columbia Tech Center campus.
C-Tran began design work on the new line about a year after the first Vine entered service, and Patterson said the process has advanced much faster than the first project, which spent the better part of a decade in development.
“It’s been moving a lot quicker than Fourth Plain,” he said. “We were able to learn a lot of lessons from the Fourth Plain bus rapid transit project.”
The Mill Plain project was able to use existing ridership data from the Mill Plain corridor to qualify for a more streamlined application process, skipping over some of the ridership forecast studies that had to be performed for Fourth Plain. Patterson also cited strong partnerships with local businesses, the city of Vancouver and Clark College as factors that strengthened the project’s application.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant declines in transit ridership across the country, but that hasn’t slowed down the Mill Plain Vine project. The line is still years away from being operational, and rider demand is expected to rebound in the long run — in fact, Patterson said, it’s already begun to rise again in recent weeks.
The economic impacts of the pandemic are wreaking havoc on municipal government budgets, Patterson said, so there is a risk that the pandemic could cause some transit projects to be delayed as leaders wait to get a full sense of the revenue losses. But in the case of Vine project, C-Tran already has its half of the funding in the bank, he said — the federal funding was the last big piece of the puzzle.
The FTA also announced Friday that it would allocate $100 million to TriMet for a planned extension of the MAX Red Line past Beaverton, Ore.