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“It’s time for us to implement a vision of how to help these communities remain livable, work and keep the economy thriving along the way.”
- Paula Hammond, Senior VP, WSP USA
The sum of efficiency and affordability is an expanded community. While the concept of high-speed travel is relatively new in the U.S., Matkin is quick to point out a long history of need in the region. The geographic limitations that continue to impact Cascadia’s industry growth and economic inequality could be better addressed by what Matkin calls a “spine of connectivity,” and WSDOT’s findings are only the most recent proof that change is necessary. “The first study for this project dates back to 1992,” she says. “Today in Seattle, they say, ‘Why didn’t we build our light rail system 30 years ago when we had the chance?’ Sometimes it’s important to dream big and make these kinds of investments.”
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Affordable housing options
With transit improvements come greater access to affordable housing, a factor that could define the Pacific Northwest’s stability over the next few decades. “We're a region in North America where housing prices are very, very high,” says Kevin Desmond, CEO of TransLink, the Metro Vancouver transportation agency. “Today in the Cascadia Corridor region, housing prices are very difficult for young people. I have millennial children and they’re trying to figure out their next steps, including whether or not they’ll be able to afford owning a home.”
In July, the median cost of a home in Seattle was $714,400. Housing is a limiting factor for workers in the Cascadia region who simply can’t afford the high price of urban living, preventing them from pursuing careers in major metro areas. According to the WSDOT study, providing quick travel along the same rail line has the potential to draw talent from previously inaccessible communities, allowing a greater number of Cascadia residents to benefit from opportunities in tech, education and health care.
Hammond, who co-chairs the Cascadia Innovation Corridor’s transportation committee with Desmond, believes the project is a step toward geographic equality. “Workers may or may not want to live in the heart of the city,” she says. “Think about how something like an ultra-high-speed corridor could help a person in a smaller community not have to compete with all those who are driving between Seattle, Vancouver and Portland for work.”
Hope for efficient travel
The opportunity Matkin refers to is a potential high-speed rail line connecting Vancouver, Seattle and Portland, with intermediate stops in between. A study released by WSDOT in partnership with the Canadian government and the Cascadia Innovation Corridor analyzed the feasibility and potential benefits of ultra-high-speed travel. Trains would travel at up to 220 miles per hour and offer 21 to 30 round trips per day, with each trip lasting less than an hour between each major city. This mode of travel would cut 6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions within the first 40 years of operation. And while the project would require $24 billion to $42 billion in up-front construction costs, it still represents a substantial decrease compared to the estimated cost of highway expansion.
For frequent commuters, the proposed improvement is long overdue. “I live in Olympia, so when I work in my office in Seattle it’s an adventure each time,” says Paula Hammond, senior vice president of civil engineering firm WSP USA. “What I do and likely others do is, if you don’t have the opportunity to get on commuter rail, light rail, bus, because you need that vehicle, perhaps you time your trips differently. Everybody is having to plan carefully if they can, about where they want to go and it wasn’t like that 20 years ago.”
As the region continues to change, Hammond notes the importance of ensuring our existing freeways and transit services work well and developing plans to support an expanding population. “Think about the millions of people that we envision coming into these three major cities in the next 10, 15 years,” she says. “It’s time for us to implement a vision of how to help these communities remain livable work and keep the economy thriving along the way.”
Oct. 1, 2019
by Cascadia Innovation Corridor
Things move quickly in the Cascadia region—as long as you aren’t in a car trying to get somewhere. Seattle-area drivers lost 138 hours during peak commuting times in 2018, according to an annual report released by INRIX, a traffic data firm. Portland and Vancouver faced similar gridlocks, as drivers lost 116 and 102 hours respectively in 2018.
Streamlined travel would help environment, affordable housing, employment, and ease congestion.
High-speed rail vision expands Cascadia Corridor options
"The envisioned high-speed rail travel would cut 6 million metric tons of CO2 emissions within the first 40 years of operation."
The Cascadia Innovation Corridor brings together business, academic and government leaders from both sides of the border. The conference is hosted by the Cascadia Innovation Corridor initiative, launched in 2016, and is co-chaired by Challenge Seattle and the Business Council of British Columbia.
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See how much time high-speed rail could save.
Addressing the growing commuter struggle in the Cascadia Innovation Corridor would involve far more than highway expansion, according to Janet Matkin, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation. “Our engineers studied what would it take to add a lane of traffic in each direction on I-5 from the Oregon border to the Canadian border, and they estimated $108 billion dollars,” she says. “Unfortunately, we know that it wouldn’t really solve the problem. Here, we have an opportunity to create something with the potential to move 32,000 people an hour without delays.”