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B.C. Olympics Can Be a Transportation Catalyst

Original Article

With endless choices for outdoor rejuvenation after a hard week’s work, capriciousness in weekend planning is the prerogative of the Seattleite. But conventional wisdom holds that, no matter where you’re headed, if you are not out of the Emerald City by noon, you’re in trouble.

Consider a trip to the British Columbia cities of Vancouver and Whistler. With kids and skis loaded in the car, you head north on Interstate 5. First comes the dreaded Everett crawl — like being trapped in a crowded, stalled elevator. You break through into the Skagit Valley, only to be held up once again by a painstaking wait at the border crossing. North of the border you’ll find a two-lane road to the Trans-Canada Highway, a couple of tight bridges, and finally the breathtaking yet treacherous Sea-to-Sky Highway.

With their dramatic mountain backdrops, bilingual culture and easy-to-navigate transit system — not to mention being North America’s premier winter playground — Vancouver and Whistler are arguably worth the trip. Yet limited train service, traffic bottlenecks and an unpredictable border crossing can make getting there onerous.

Perhaps not for long. With Vancouver hosting the 2010 Olympic Games, it could be Seattle’s big break.

Many of the Olympic visitors will be arriving at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. The opportunities to showcase the “Two-Nation Vacation” of Washington and British Columbia to an international market are legion.

Preplanning, already well under way has resulted in an assortment of highway improvement projects that will benefit cross-border travel. A $220 million widening of Interstate 5 to Everett is being expedited. In Whatcom County, Guide Meridian Road — which leads to an alternate border crossing at Lynden — is also undergoing expansion. And in Vancouver, a $3.5 billion highway-and-transit infrastructure program is being implemented, which includes road expansion between the border and the Trans-Canada Highway. Vancouver’s bridges will be widened, and the Sea-to-Sky Highway is slated for a $520 million (Canadian) expansion that is overdue.

While the region scrambles to improve highways, however, other initiatives lag.

Consider the Seattle-to-Vancouver international Amtrak Cascades passenger rail service. It provides one of the most beautiful train rides on the continent, but it offers just one train a day — hardly a convenient travel option. Washington state’s Transportation Department — with support from citizens through increased taxes — has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in rail improvements. A pending U.S.-Canadian commitment could result in up to four trains a day to connect Canada with Washington and Oregon.

For years, our Cascadia Center has argued for more cross-border cooperation to expand the international tourism market. For instance, individual ports in the airline and cruise ship industries compete for business. If they were to cooperate — and jointly market this larger region from Alaska to California, with the Olympics as a catalyst — airlines and international tourism organizations could better market an international destination with a richer diversity of attractions than simply a single metropolitan area.

Multimodal connections and better cooperation between our airports and cruise ship gateways would conveniently allow tourists to enter one gateway and exit another — similar to the sophisticated network of travel connections and fast border clearances in the European Union.

Beyond increased tourism, another opportunity for cooperation is alternative energy. Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed is known for advocating sustainable development initiatives, such as affordable housing, compact growth, renewable energy and alternative transportation. At home, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels is signing up mayors from communities across the country to reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions to meet and exceed targets set by the Kyoto Protocol.

With two dynamic mayors sharing a common agenda, our regions should work together. A “hydrogen highway” lined with hydrogen-fueling infrastructure is planned for construction between Vancouver and Whistler in 2007. It could be extended into I-5 in Washington — and beyond to California — with a series of alternative fuel marts that would provide not only hydrogen, but biodiesel, natural gas and electrical plug-ins for hybrids.

Indeed, fertile ground abounds for new binational cooperation and a regional legacy. But one recent proclamation by the Bush administration may make the road more difficult.

In January the administration unveiled the People Access Security Service (PASS) card. The card is a cheaper alternative than a passport in meeting the requirements of the congressionally mandated Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), which will tighten security restrictions for travel by 2008.

But as Darrell Bryan of Victoria Clipper notes, the card still requires foundation documents and lead time to obtain — discouraging the spontaneous travel that his business relies on. Security is vital, but “at the end of the day,” as Gov. Christine Gregoire puts it, “the best option is full staffing and fully trained people at the border.”

On the eve of hosting the world and Olympic Games, costly, hard-to-obtain documentation counters the rare chance at a regional legacy of cooperation in commerce and conservation.

After all, as the inscription over the Peace Arch at the border says, we are “children of a common mother.” And siblings should play together.

BRUCE AGNEW is director and JESSICA CANTELON is a writer for Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center, a nonprofit public policy center based in Seattle.

Bruce Agnew

Director, Cascadia Center
Since 2017, Bruce has served as Director of the ACES NW Network based in Seattle and Bellevue, Washington. The Network is dedicated to the acceleration of ACES (Autonomous-Connected-Electric-Shared) technology in Northwest transportation for the movement of people and goods. ACES is co-chaired by Tom Alberg, Co-Founder and managing partner of Madrona Venture Group in Seattle and Bryan Mistele, CEO/Co-Founder of INRIX global technology in Kirkland. In 2022, Bruce became the director of the newly created Pacific Northwest Economic Region (PNWER) Regional Infrastructure Accelerator. Initial funding for the Accelerator has come from the Build America Bureau of the USDOT. PNWER is a statutory public/private nonprofit created in 1991 by the U.S. states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, Montana, and Washington and the Canadian provinces of Alberta, British Columbia, and Saskatchewan and the territories of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. PNWER has 16 cross-border working groups for common economic and environmental initiatives.