Gov. Jay Inslee also took time to talk about tolls, the Interstate Bridge, and other SW Washington transportation concerns
VANCOUVER — The Port of Vancouver rang the ceremonial bell Tuesday, marking the completion of the $251 million West Vancouver Freight Access (WVFA) project.
The WVFA was really 21 different projects that took more than a decade to complete. But despite that amount of time, it actually came in ahead of time and millions of dollars under budget.
“The Port of Vancouver is a gateway to the world. And isn’t great that we are opening up that gateway today with this project?” said Governor Jay Inslee who spoke at the opening ceremony.
“This project is going to improve freight mobility dramatically,” added the Governor. “We’re going to have more efficient movement at grade crossings. We’ll have new entrances. We will increase rail capacity. It’s anticipated that this project will reduce delays by as much as 40 percent.”
Inslee says the project will eventually improve freight capacity at the Port of Vancouver USA from the current 65,000 cars per year, to around 400,000. “That is a Herculean improvement,” the governor says.
Inslee was joined at the ceremony by Southwest Washington Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, as well as representatives from Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray’s offices who read statements. A number of other local elected officials attended the ceremony but did not speak.
“The impact (of this project) cannot be overstated,” said Herrera Beutler. “It’s provided over a thousand new jobs, and an additional 4,000 construction jobs. And it’s already attracted more than $400 million in private investment, which is not exactly small change.”
Cager Clabaugh, president of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4, said he’s been told that the number of Longshoremen employed at the Port could increase from around 200 now, to more than 400 in the coming years.
The cornerstone of the West Vancouver Freight Access project is a water-tight trench that allows trains to go east-west under the 1908 railroad bridge west of the Interstate bridge.
“It’s innovative, it’s timely, and its a historic project that’s going to positively impact freight rail access here in Southwest Washington today, and really for generations to come,” Herrera Beutler said. “It’s a very forward-thinking project.”
Governor Inslee took a few moments to also talk about the millions coming out of Olympia for other projects in Southwest Washington, including the upcoming Mill Plain/I-5 ramp project, as well as the Pioneer Street rail overpass in Ridgefield.
“We are building transportation infrastructure in this part of the state, because this part of the state is integral to the economic growth of the entire state,” said Inslee. “This project is as important to Bellingham and Spokane as it is to Vancouver.”
The governor also had a few words to say about Oregon’s idea of tolls south of the Columbia River in Portland, saying he’s been pushing Washington Department of Transportation officials to make sure Southwest Washington voices are heard in the debate. “And I can report to you that those voices have been heard, they are being heard, and they will be heard to make sure that our residents’ interests are protected in any tolling discussion,” said Inslee, adding that he’s been told Portland’s proposal to toll all of I-5 and I-205 up to the state line is likely DOA at the Oregon Transportation Commission.
Inslee also said discussions continue over the importance of replacing the 100-year-old Interstate Bridge on I-5.
“I hope that the joy we feel today, the sense of satisfaction we feel today, the recognition that when we work together and reach some consensus on how to move forward (like) we did in this project, will be the same sense of satisfaction when we eventually cut the blue ribbon for the I-5 Bridge across the Columbia River,” said Inslee.
Funded through port dollars and federal and state grants, WVFA will help lower costs for U.S. manufacturers and farmers, making them more competitive in global markets, according to a release from the Port.
Port tenants and neighbors, including United Grain Corp., Great Western Malting and Farwest Steel, have already invested more than $200 million in private funds to upgrade facilities and equipment and take advantage of increased rail capacity.