Excerpted from page 52 of “How Do We Get There From Here,” a transportation report written and published by the Cascadia Project and Discovery Institute. Visit our website to view the entire report, or contact Holly McQueen at 206-292-0401 x120 or firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to purchase a hard copy of the report.
A new commercial vehicle-only corridor could help relieve congestion more generally on I-5 along the West Coast, the third busiest truck corridor in the U.S. The Washington Legislature has been supportive of exploring the feasibility of a new tolled transportation corridor east of I-5 and roughly parallel to it, from the Canadian border to Lewis County (Chehalis). This corridor has been referred to as the I-605 project. Two camps historically have opposed it. Growth management advocates fear the disruption of the hard fought urban growth boundaries along the Sammamish Plateau by a sprawl-inducing outer beltway. And, business interests along the I-405 corridor worry that an I-605 project could divert important resources and political capital away from their most important priority, enlargement of the I-405/SR-167 corridor.
There is a solution. First, build a new tolled highway trade corridor east of the Cascade Mountains, where north-south trade between central and eastern B.C., Alberta and California is increasing anyway. The new north-south highway ideally would be built on a totally new route from central British Columbia, through the sparsely populated desert and farmland of eastern/central Washington, Idaho and Oregon, then into California. It would be a major undertaking that could qualify for future federal interstate highway support, or it could operate as a tollway. There is little constituency for this idea now, but it may well make the most sense in years to come.
In the meantime, there are two other possibilities for a north-south inland corridor in eastern Washington. The two, in fact, are not mutually exclusive, especially since one favors a central Washington (Columbia River) route and the other a Spokane-Inland Empire path.
- Upgrade the current Highway 97 corridor from Canada’s Okanagan Country (with connections to Alaska) through the Moses Lake and Tri-Cities area and on to the Oregon/California Klamath Falls bi-state region (where Highway 97 rejoins I-5). The advantage here is that the route could tie into the potential development of the extensive Moses Lake Airport/I-90 interchange that some observers see as a major air transshipment port gateway and future population hub.
- Expand Highway 395/95’s corridor in the Spokane area from the Washington-B.C.-Idaho border (which feeds traffic from Alberta); then link up with Highway 97 south of the Tri-Cities, continuing into Oregon along an upgraded 97 corridor through Bend and Klamath Falls. The advantage here is that 395 and 95 are currently designated by USDOT as high priority trade corridors eligible for special federal funding. Highway 97, in contrast, is not eligible at present for federal funds as a “trade corridor.”
Either alternative will bring jobs to central and eastern Washington and bridge the “Cascade Curtain” political divide. Each would win Eastern Washington allies for a statewide transportation package directly linked to economic development and each would ease pressure on I-5.