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Freight mobility gets attention

Seattle policy institute and transportation task force study north-south corridor

A Seattle-based policy institute and a new task force created last month by the premier of British Columbia and the governor of Washington both have turned their attention to improving north-south freight mobility through Spokane and Eastern Washington.
An initial planning session that included transportation, port and tourism officials, plus elected representatives from the states, provinces and local governments in them, convened in Spokane July 16. The Seattle organization, the Discovery Institute, is already at work on an effort called the Cascadia Project, which strives to promote cross-border cooperation on issues faced by Pacific Northwest states and neighboring Canadian provinces. The project is exploring the feasibility of developing an inland transportation corridor that would link Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, and possibly Idaho and Alberta.

“We want to be a forum where public and private leaders can get together and seek solutions,” Bruce Agnew, director of the Cascadia Project, told the officials gathered in Spokane.

The Cascadia Project had been working to support improvement of highways and railroads that link Portland, Tacoma, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., so that cargo could move to and from those port cities more efficiently. The project had focused on the Interstate 5 corridor as a “Main Street” for the fast-growing coastal region. Then, Lynn Snodgrass, speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, suggested an inland corridor also be considered for moving freight north and south, Agnew says.

“This project was born in Oregon,” he says of the inland corridor idea.

Other states and provinces quickly adopted Snodgrass’ idea, and the recently formed Washington-British Columbia task force took on the inland corridor as its first initiative, says task force co-chairman Mike Harcourt, former premier of British Columbia.

The task force got its start this winter when British Columbia Premier Glen Clark proposed a cooperative effort to deal with issues surrounding border crossings, international transport, trade and tourism, and Washington Gov. Gary Locke agreed to the effort.

The transportation task force was publicly launched in June and was expected to begin choosing specific causes, policies and road projects to support later, Harcourt says. He says the task force could throw its support behind border crossing regulations, vehicle weight restrictions, and other trade and transport issues. Kathy Kreiter, acting director of the state Department of Community, Trade and Economic Development, is the co-chair representing Washington.

“An inland corridor is essential for us all,” Harcourt told those meeting in Spokane, so the task force quickly decided to take a closer look at the potnetial for such a corridor.

Harcourt says focus on an inland corridor now is particularly timely because transportation corridors tha can enhance trade are receiving national attention in both the U.S. and Canada.

Last year, in the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21), Congress set aside about $700 million over five years for the development and improvement of U.S. freight corridors and international border crossings. U.S. 395, which is Division Street where it runs through town, was designated in that act as a high-priority route for international freight shipments, and after the act passed, the Washington state Department of Transportation created a new planning document that assimilated all proposed work on that highway through Spokane and Eastern Washington, including the long-awaited north-south freeway here, into a single plan that would meet federal requirements.

“We can take advantage of TEA-21 resources,” Harcourt says.

In Canada, transport also is receiving more national atention than it has in the last several years, and additional resources are expected to be made available toupgrade railroads and highways, Harcourt says.

An inland corridor

The Cascadia Project and the Washington-British Columbia task force envision a corridor through inalnd Washington that’s shaped like an inverted wishbone.

One leg of the wishbone would run through central Washington along U.S. 97, and the other would follow U.S. 395 through Eastern Washington, with the two legs coming together in northern Oregon.

From there, truckers could roll on through central Oregon on U.S. 97 and connect with Interstate 5 in northern California. Meanwhile, U.S. 395 south of the wishbone would provide an alternate route through Oregon, Nevada and California as far south as San Diego.

An inland corridor would avoid congested population centers; traffic moves slowly through cities and the cost of moving freight increases as trips take longer, the Cascadia Project says. It adds that improvements to infrastructure in crowded metropolitan areas also are expensive and becoming more costly all the time.

An inland route also would bypass areas on I-5 that are rain- and fog-prone in the winter, the Cascadia Project says.

Those promoting the inland corridor stress that the route would be a supplement to I-5, not a replacement.