Light Rail in the ‘Couv’

During the eight year period the CRC project was under review an expansion of the TriMet operated MAX light rail line was part of the equation. Largely due to the availability of federal funds for it and partly due to greedy Portland TriMet execs wanting a piece of our tax dollars in Washington. As if Oregon’s egregious assault on Clark County via their taxation without representation income tax scheme wasn’t enough.

Although I stand in strong opposition to any TriMet projects in Clark County I stand in support of a transit solution including our own light rail connection to the MAX. Now this may seem odd having two transit agencies potentially sharing space, but a transit arrangement between Vancouver and Portland is hardly a novel idea.


In the 19th century Portland Street Car came all the way to what is now Jansen Beach on Hayden Island then passengers would embark on a 3/4 mile ferry ride across the mighty Columbia to connect with the Vancouver Street Car that went all the way out to Sifton at one point.

Vancouver Streetcar, 1917

In 1917 when the new Interstate Bridge opened, there was a “dual gauge” set of tracks across the span along with auto lanes and sidewalks. The dual gauge accommodated both the Vancouver Street Car that ran on standard gauge track and the narrow gauge track used in Portland. The Street Car service remained in place until 1940.

More recently, Clark County has consistently voted against efforts to bring MAX across the river. It should be noted that the earliest efforts by TriMet to bring MAX across the river were based on a Clackamas to Clark route along Interstate 205 and across the Glen Jackson Bridge. Honestly that was a terrible idea. There is not enough density in Cascade Park to support light rail, Cascade Park is a suburban neighborhood.

The latest efforts are hinged on using the Yellow line that currently terminates at the Expo Center just South of the Columbia. Now Downtown Vancouver definitely has the density to support light rail and that urban density is rapidly increasing even without a train.

Modern Adaptation?

As of April, 2022 the commission for the replacement bridge project has elected to extend Portland’s poor run Tri-Met MAX light rail into Vancouver across the the new bridge. Although the operations in Clark County can still be jointly run locally if our Mayor and City Council can have a spine installed. This development reported in the Columbian 4/21/2022 makes much of the commentary below moot.

Rather than have TriMet ramming their system down Clark County’s throat, why can’t Vancouver or C-Tran have their own light rail train? My concerns with TriMet are many, one of which is the fact the the “Tri” in TriMet refers to tri-county. Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas counties. All three of those have a combined population of roughly 2 million people. If Clark County enters the fray we would no doubt be subject to the tyranny of the majority being out voted all the time. Oregon and Washington don’t always get along, and Portlanders in particular are rather dastardly towards the ‘Couv’. TriMet is likely more interested in sucking tax dollars out of Clark County than serving the local people here.

C-Tran or the City of Vancouver could operate a train using the same rail gauge as MAX and create a line from say Mc Loughlin in mid-town through downtown and across the river either on one of the old spans as a companion to the new bridge or across the new bridge to connect with MAX. A right of way agreement between TriMet and Vancouver/C-Tran could allow the Vancouver train to go all the way into Downtown Portland. Riders could transfer to other MAX routes to effectively connect anywhere in the metro area. This is also not a novel idea as multi-state/nation transit authority agreements exist all over the world.

This type of arrangement would give complete local control over the system on our side of the river and on our trains. Our trains could be setup to stop anywhere along the “Yellow” Line from a new station at Janzen Beach, to the Expo Center, and anywhere along the Interstate Avenue route. We could even have an express train that makes fewer stops offering a quicker ride between the two City Centers. Portlanders would enjoy a similar benefit now being able to travel directly to Vancouver, avoiding the notoriously congested section of I-5 between Delta Park and the Rose Quarter.

I believe that Vancouver and Clark County residents would be much more likely to vote “yes” to light rail if it remained mostly independent of Oregon and TriMet. This could work and become a rare “win-win” for both states.

Here’s an idea for a route