The Pacific Northwest continues to grow rapidly — we’ve seen the impact on our roads and climate as people travel to school, commute to work and visit family. With up to 4 million more people expected to call the Northwest home by 2050, our growing pains will only worsen if we fail to act.
In one year, a commuter in our region can spend 78 hours stuck in traffic — that’s more than three days of their time each year, according to the 2019 Urban Mobility Report by Texas A&M University’s Transportation Institute.
We need to take bold action to prepare for a sustainable future that allows us to travel freely, bypass gridlock and truly link our region. That’s why we’re urging more federal recognition and support for the Cascadia Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation (UHSGT) project.
A Cascadia ultra-high-speed system would connect Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Portland (and more) with an integrated transportation network that provides safe, efficient, reliable and affordable travel. Depending on traffic slow downs, a trip between Seattle and Portland can take nearly four hours by car, and a flight takes at least three hours with boarding and security. By high-speed rail, or other emerging high-speed technology, the trip would reliably take one hour at speeds of up to 250 miles per hour.
Our elected representatives in Congress have an opportunity to support Cascadia as they consider the budget reconciliation process, capturing investments that will otherwise go to other states.
Our region has failed to seize similar opportunities before. Fifty years ago, the King County Forward Thrust proposal to build a 47-mile, 30-station rapid rail system was supported by a majority of voters but failed to meet the 60% initiative threshold. As a result, our region lost $1 billion of federal transportation funding to Atlanta.
The economic impact of this missed opportunity weighs on countless people in the Puget Sound region today who must rely on high-cost vehicles to access school, work and other activities. Building an ultra-high-speed rail system supported by great local transit and affordable housing will make our region more equitable by providing a faster, cleaner and more convenient way to travel for all residents of the region.
We’ve already explored the feasibility of an ultra-high-speed system in the Cascadia corridor. A 2019 business-case analysis showed economic growth potential of $355 billion, while a 2020 WSDOT study examined how to move the project forward and fund an estimated $24 billion to $42 billion in planning and construction costs. Multiple strategies are available to pay for further planning and construction, and can include federal, provincial, state and private investment options.
At the same time, we’ve learned from the pitfalls of other high-speed rail projects in California and elsewhere. We know the vital importance of listening to the communities this project will connect and relying on local input to guide design and construction.
We can lessen our dependence on fossil fuels while we’re at it. Since an ultra-high-speed system reduces our reliance on freeways and cars, we could prevent 960 metric tons of harmful pollutants such as particulate matter and carbon monoxide from entering our atmosphere over the first 40 years of operation.
While there is plenty of work ahead, people are already uniting around the promise of re-imagining our transportation system. More than 45 organizations have asked federal legislators from Washington and Oregon to champion the Cascadia Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation project and ensure it is eligible for federal dollars.
It’s clear why. This project would create 200,000 skilled labor jobs in the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2017 state Department of Transportation study. In addition to direct jobs for construction, operations and maintenance, economic development will bring employment opportunities in other sectors. For every direct job related to the ultra-high-speed line, four jobs will be supported in other industries, creating opportunities for more than 840,000 people, according to a 2020 high-speed rail white paper by U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
We must seize the moment to ensure an ultra-high-speed system is in the next chapter of our region’s story, rather than millions more cars on our already choked highways.
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