The $200 million could meet many local transportation needs
For Clark County Today
Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez has written a letter to DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg with nine other members of the Washington Congressional delegation seeking $198.1 million for the Cascadia High Speed Rail project planning. This comes at a time where Southwest Washington citizens are being asked to pay tolls to cover the underfunded portion of the $7.5 billion Interstate Bridge Replacement (IBR) project.
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) submitted a Federal-State Partnership application to the Federal Railroad Administration in April 2023 to advance this project. During the 2022 legislative session, members of the Washington State Legislature allocated $4 million for additional analysis and development for future high-speed rail. They also allocated $150 million to be used as matching funds to leverage federal funding opportunities over the next six years.
Overall, the states hope to get a high speed rail line that would travel between Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, and possibly to Eugene. It would possibly travel at 250 miles per hour. It is unknown if there would be a stop in Vancouver, WA or if Clark County residents would have to go into Portland to catch the train.
“A key component of our vision is a fast, frequent, reliable, and environmentally responsible transportation system that unites this Cascadia megaregion,” they say. “Providing a fast and efficient transportation system would allow people to live in less densely populated areas and work anywhere in the megaregion.” Citizens might wonder how many stops would be in those less densely populated areas, and how would that impact travel times?
The legislators also tout “Decreasing emissions on Interstate 5 by reducing congestion, helping to mitigate climate change and supporting sustainability and resilience in the region,” as a benefit. Yet Gov. Jay Inslee has already decreed that all cars sold will be electric vehicles by 2035. Therefore carbon emission reductions would likely be nonexistent.
Furthermore, the IBR does nothing to reduce traffic congestion. The program is telling people that half of rush hour vehicles will be stuck traveling zero to 20 mph by 2045. Why would a rail line reduce traffic congestion when replacing an interstate freeway bridge won’t?
The Cascadia High Speed Rail funding request occurs as the California High Speed Rail project has yet to lay a single track. Costs have exploded from under $40 billion to $105 billion as of a year ago. Estimates go as high as $128 billion. National Review recently labeled high speed rail “a Fast Train to Fiscal Ruin, in California and Elsewhere”.
The existing Amtrak Cascades ridership dropped over 80 percent due to pandemic lockdowns. Passenger ridership peaked in 2011 at 848,000. It dropped to 156,000 in 2020 before recovering to 193,000 in 2021. The Amtrak service covers the exact same route proposed for the Cascadia high speed rail service.
At a June meeting of the Washington Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee, a consultant presented a review of Ultra High-Speed Rail studies that have been done for the I-5 corridor. The Washington Policy Center (WPC) reported “absent any other changes, the $24-42 billion capital cost estimates presented in the 2018 study would now be equivalent to $36 to 63 billion.”
The consultant found that speed assumptions were unrealistically high and the previous cost analysis was unrealistically low. They believed improvements in airline flights would likely take passengers away from high speed rail. “The consultants fail to mention that ridership on the Amtrak Cascades service connecting the same cities peaked in 2011,” the WPC noted. Ridership on Sound Transit’s commuter rail service between Tacoma, Seattle and Everett is less than half what it was prior to COVID.
“As one of the largest mega-projects ever undertaken in our region, we need your support to provide the due diligence needed to determine how a project of this magnitude can be built,” the legislators said. Yet the current IBR has yet to receive anything other than $1 million in token federal funding.
Citizens remain concerned about the potential for $30 daily tolls to pay for portions of unfunded or under-funded transportation projects in the Portland metro area. ODOT has roughly a $3 billion shortfall, and the 75,000 Clark County residents who commute to work in Oregon fear tolling and vehicle mileage charges will harm them the most.
Portland has the 12th worst traffic congestion in the nation. Funding congestion relief projects is a top priority for citizens who experienced 72 hours of delays last year stuck in traffic.
The Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report ranks Washington state’s highways 46th out of the fifty states. The WPC reported “WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar has gone so far as to say “the system is on a glide-path to failure.” WSDOT has estimated that an additional $350 million per year is needed to bring the state highway system up to a state of good repair, but they have no plan to accomplish that. It would seem Millar would welcome the $200 million for road repairs.
Local cities have significant funding needs for transportation projects as well. The Camas Slough Bridge is a significant safety issue as the site of multiple accidents. Camas indicates it needs $45 million to replace the bridge.
The city of Battle Ground lists over $42 million in transportation projects on their 6-year transportation plan. Clark County lists over 20 projects totaling $238 million in project costs in their Transportation Improvement Plan.
Presumably a high speed rail line would need its own bridge over the Columbia River. That would be competing for funds to build a third and fourth vehicle bridges and transportation corridors over the Columbia. The RTC in their 2008 “Visioning Study” identified the need for two new bridges and transportation corridors over the river to handle expected population and traffic growth.
The congressional members’ priorities seem out of step with the day to day needs of the people for safe, uncongested roads and bridges.
- Amtrak Cascades adds two more daily round trips starting Dec. 11Just in time for the holidays, WSDOT and ODOT are starting two additional Amtrak Cascades daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland.
- Opinion: TriMet in the 21st CenturyRandal O’Toole provides an executive summary of a report that indicates TriMet and the region should immediately cease all planning for infrastructure-heavy transit projects, including light rail.
- Opinion: TriMet’s existential crisisTriMet’s share of all regional trips today is about 4 percent, which means it’s irrelevant to most regional travelers.
- Washington truckers say state should put the brakes on EV transitionTrucking industry advocates say state officials need to pump the brakes on EV transition plans due to what they argue amounts to a logistical and practical nightmare.
- Expect delays on northbound I-5 in Woodland, Nov. 15-16People who travel along northbound Interstate 5 near the Clark and Cowlitz county lines should plan ahead for single lane closures and additional travel time.