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Rail has a role in the region's future

trainIn a series of op-eds in The Everett Herald, Cascadia Center makes the argument for role that rail has had (and can continue to have) in the Northwest. The first, "Let history be our guide," describes how the region's past success with rail can and should guide its future. The second article, "All aboard together," focuses on how the region can partner -- across juridsictional and public-private lines -- to ensure a future for rail.

Destination Sustainability
Sustainable Freight Transportation in North America

The Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has released its new report, "Destination Sustainability: Reducing Greehouse Gas Emissions from Freight Transportation in North America. (The full report can be downloaded here.)

"Destination Sustainability" is the product of "expertise, and perspectives" of specialists in the field of transportation and is designed to serve as a template of "recommendations for actions" to ensure the "environmental sustainability of the North American transportation system."

The CEC is a NAFTA-chartered commission focused on the issue of sustainable freight transportation. Cascadia Center's Bruce Agnew serves as the chair of the group.

Done deal: State signs $1.1 bil tunnel contract

The ink is dry on a nearly $1.1 billion contract to build what will be the world's largest diameter deep-bore highway tunnel beneath downtown Seattle.

At a ceremony Thursday at the Port of Seattle headquarters, state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond signed the 154-page agreement with representatives from Seattle Tunnel Partners, a joint-venture that offered the winning bid to dig the planned 1.7 mile long tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Seattle Tunnel Partners outbid one other team, Seattle Tunneling Group, with a proposed price of $1.09 billion to build the tunnel itself. STP includes New York-based Dragados USA, whose parent company is ACS of Spain; and HNTB Corp., which is headquartered in Kansas City and has a Bellevue office; and Tutor-Perini of California. Transportation officials said the winning bid was slightly higher than a bid from competitor, but Seattle Tunnel Partners' proposal was notable for its soil protection plans, as well as its anticipated schedule and design aspects. A wider roadway was also promised by the construction team. ...


New ferry service begins between Port Townsend, Seattle

Spirit of Kingston

Judith Hoyle lives in Port Townsend and works in downtown Seattle, and, until Monday, would catch a ferry from Bainbridge Island to Seattle for her job.

On Monday she rode the new Port of Kingston passenger ferry, the Spirit of Kingston, on its inaugural voyage. And she's a huge fan.

She figures the new ferry will save her an hour and a half commute each day. "If it works out it's a godsend," she said.


High-Speed Rail in the Cascadia Corridor
Sessions in Vancouver and Portland Advance Cause

Cascadia Corridor Map

Cascadia Center continued its work on high-speed rail during the summer, being among the sponsors of two highly-successful sessions in Vancouver, B.C., and Portland, Ore. What began in earnest with our May 2009 Cascadia Rail Week continues as we work with colleagues throughout the corridor to organize seminars, forums, meetings and field trips to help regional leaders coalesce around a common cause. 

"Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson signed a pact with the mayors of Seattle and Portland on June 9 to push to secure a high-speed railway service through the Pacific Northwest...The pact, which follows a similar agreement made last year between the province and Washington state, was arranged as rail and government officials, including a Washington state senator and a number of mayors from cities in that state, gathered in Vancouver to discuss how to advance high-speed rail between B.C., Washington state and Oregon." Business in Vancouver, 06/15/2010

Information about the June and July events:

Vancouver - June 9, 2010: Here is an article that ties into the event, and click here for a recap of the presentations.

Portland - July 8-9, 2010: The map (above) shows the entire corridor. Click here for a larger version. Also, click here for the America 2050 briefing book for the event. 

McGinn to Microsoft on 520: Walk the talk

520 bridge

Microsoft's announcement on its stance in moving forward with replacing the 520 bridge elicited some sharp jabs Tuesday from Seattle political leaders:

State Sen. Ed Murray said it was like a "punch in the face," and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn implied that Microsoft was being a hypocrite.

"I think when you're trying to bring people together, it's like a punch in the face. It's hardly a constructive tactic. I'm not sure it hurts in any way, but it certainly doesn't help," said Murray, who earlier this month joined McGinn, House Speaker Frank Chopp and Rep. Jamie Pedersen to support an option with mass transit-only lanes for replacing 520. ...

During the Microsoft news conference, company officials pointed out that 5,000 employees use the bridge. They talked about Microsoft's Connector shuttle, a private transit system that hauls 4,200 employees per day and relies on the bridge.

That touches on an issue that's so far been missing from the 520 debate, said Bruce Agnew, director of Discovery Institute's Cascadia Center for Regional Development, a transportation policy research center. ...

"Microsoft is speaking up when other regional leaders should be," he said.


Facts About Seattle's Tunnel Choice

At the beginning of 2009, Seattle, King County and the State of Washington made the joint decision to replace the aging, earthquake-prone Alaskan Way Viaduct with a technologically advanced deep-bored tunnel. The decision, which had been the topic of regional debate for years, represents one of the most significant transportation choices the region has made in decades. Cascadia Center's "Facts About Seattle's Tunnel Choice" provides facts about the decision to replace the Viaduct with an advanced deep bored tunnel and improvements to transit and surface streets. 

Animation of a tunnel boring machine (below) from the Washington State Department of Transportation's blog.

Fast Train In The Fast Lane

(For audio of full story, click on audio player after first paragraph, here.)

......Vancouver mayor Gregor Robertson sees a high speed rail link as helping knit together a greater Cascadia region. "We have a great affinity with our cities to the south, Seattle and Portland,” he says, “and certainly would prefer to have more connection through rail and high speed rail. To be able to jump on a train and be in Seattle or Portland in a couple of hours would be a remarkable breakthrough."

This conference was organized by the Cascadia Center, a Seattle-based think tank that promotes innovative approaches to transportation. Director Bruce Agnew says state lawmakers, port commissioners and business leaders are lining up behind passenger rail.

"I think this is the hottest new issue in transportation"

Agnew says one reason this is getting traction now is the growing recognition of the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He says that for distances between 300 and 500 miles, studies show that it’s more energy-efficient to move freight and people by rail rather than by individual car or by truck.

And Agnew says, rail’s green advantages can be multiplied by connecting inter-city trains to local light rail, transit buses and bicycle facilities.

"So you make these rail stations in the metropolitan areas hubs, for mobility," he says, "for people to be able to take the train to a city and then not have to have a car to get around the city and the metropolitan area." 


Washington State Transportation Head Weighs In On Future Of Infrastructure

In the future, you could be paying for your right to use roads the same way you pay your utilities — a bill based on exactly how much you use. According to Paula Hammond, secretary of transportation, and the state’s highest transportation official, the technology to do that isn’t that far down the road. “It’s 10 to 15 years out,” she said, noting that kind of direct-user fee could be part of the equation for future transportation funding. 

But in the meantime, there is a complex – not to mention expensive – series of transportation needs that the Puget Sound area has to resolve, or at least come to terms with. Traffic congestion; freight issues; super-efficient hybrid vehicles slowing the state’s gas tax to more of a trickle: all of these elements are adding up to a Gordian’s Knot of worries on which the state is working to get a handle.

...Hammond called attention to one of DOT’s latest projects: high-occupancy tolling lanes, or HOT Lanes. It’s a concept allowing non-carpooling drivers to use the HOV lanes, by charging them for the privilege. For more than a year DOT has been operating a test segment of State Route 167 in South King County.

And it’s working...Given the promise of HOT lanes have shown, DOT is working to expand HOT lanes on more of Puget Sound’s clogged roadways – starting with I-405, where road-expansion work is ongoing, and HOV lanes are already present....“But we’re looking at the entire (405) corridor. And as it comes through the 167 interchange and carries down there as well.”...The concept of paying as you go, to fund specific projects like the HOT lanes, is gaining serious momentum as a payment solution for transportation issues...Hammond said drivers investing directly in the roads they use is a critical part of the equation...

(Full article)

(Reporter Newspapers Transportation Special Report: "Navigate King County's Future")

Simulations of the Alakan Way Replacement Options

Cascadia Center for Regional Development has long supported a deep-bored tunnel option to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct. The approach will open up the waterfront, improve views, and provide new public parks and open spaces, all while maintaining the necessary capacity for through-traffic and freight. The Washington State Department of Transportation has recently produced two simulations to demonstrate the impact the project could have thousands of people who live and work downtown or travel through the corridor.

The following excerpt is drawn from the WSDOT web site and the videos are available below.

"Trying to convey the changes that will result from a large transportation project is a challenge. For smaller projects – repaving a road, adding a roundabout – it’s easy for people to picture what the end result will be. For a project like the SR 99 bored tunnel that will replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct, it’s a little more complicated.

Not only does the proposed replacement include an almost two-mile-long bored tunnel beneath downtown, we also plan to rebuild the surface street along the waterfront. People ask – What will the tunnel look like? How will I be able to access it? How will the new waterfront street be different than what exists today? Well, we now have some new tools to help provide answers. ***

You can visit the Alaskan Way Viaduct program Web site at to learn more about these and other improvements that are part of the viaduct’s replacement.

Congress Begins Grappling With New Surface Transportation Funding Bill

The current federal surface transportation funding bill expires this summer. A crucial revenue source is the federal gas tax trust fund, now chronically insolvent. The federal gas tax hasn't been raised in 16 years, and it isn't indexed to inflation. A highway system built in the 1950s and 1960s continues to wear down under heavy use, increasing funding needs for maintenance, and capacity expansion, while improved vehicle mileage has tightened the revenue flow from the per-gallon gas tax. Congress wants to roughly double the current spending plan to nearly $500 billion for the next six years. A draft House version of the new bill has been introduced, but it's unclear where the money would come from and whether the bill can be approved by the Sept. 30 deadline some key lawmakers favor. The Obama administration instead wants to develop a stop-gap funding plan and then take up the reauthorization bill - in full - 18 months later.

The timing debate aside, another concern is that the draft bill would, if approved with current House language intact, impose strict federal limits on new plans for (variable-rate electronic) tolling on interstate highways and create new federal regulations on public-private partnerships (P3s) in surface transportation. Variable-rate tolling is an increasingly popular strategy used by major metro regions on state routes and interstate highways to fund important corridor improvements and control peak-hour congestion. For several decades now, the federal government has effectively - and wisely - given metro regions broad latitude in developing and implementing congestion relief policies, including tolling new lanes on interstates, and state routes, with variable rates. And regulation of transportation P3s has essentially been left to the states. As Reuters reports below on 6/25, Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood is in the reauthorization debate underscoring the need for increased emphasis on user fees (including tolling) and private investment, and holding firm against a federal gas tax hike.

It's likely to be a long and winding road to the final bill, and along the way we can expect a robust conversation about transit, tolling, the ailing gas tax and even a ground-breaking proposal to tax vehicles by the mile on all roads, a strategy tested in landmark pilot programs in Oregon and metro Puget Sound. Here are key articles on the current reauthorization dialog, which we'll keep updated.

House "Blueprint" of reauthorization bill (84 p., pdf) (see p. 32 for proposed tolling restrictions)

Full text of House bill (775 p., pdf)

NEW: "Funding Conundrum Persists For U.S. Transpo Overhaul," Ken Orski, Cascadia Prospectus, 8/10/09

"U.S. Senate Committee OKs $20 Billion For Highway Fund," Reuters, 7/15/09

"A Road Map, Or A Road To Ruin?" Los Angeles Times editorial board, 7/1/09

"Patching Trust Fund Gap May Trump Fast OK Of New Transpo Bill," Ken Orski, Cascadia Prospectus, 6/29/09

"White House Says Transportation System Overhaul Must Wait," Washington Post, 6/26/09

'Government Estimates $20 Billion Highway Funding Shortfall," Reuters, 6/25/09

"Oberstar's Transportation Bill Begins Legislative Journey," Minnesota Public Radio, 6/23/09

"With Road Ending For Highway Law, Congress Tackles New Blueprint," McClatchy Newspapers, 6/23/09

"House Transportation Bill: Where's The Money, & Can It Pass In '09?" Ken Orski, Cascadia Prospectus, 6/22/09

"U.S. House Wants More Transit Spending, Fewer Tolls," The Newspaper, 6/22/09

"K Street Behind Oberstar's Highway Bill," The Hill, 6/22/09

"Road Indulgence," Riverside, CA Press-Enterprise, 6/22/09

"The Oberstar Transportation Bill Is Fatally Flawed," Robert Poole, Reason Foundation, Out Of Control Policy Blog, 6/19/09

"Delays Ahead: Ambitious Plans For American Transport Run Into Reality," The Economist, 6/18/09

High Speed Rail Can Transform Cascadia

High speed rail and improved inter-city freight rail infrastructure can better unite the Cascadia region, from British Columbia to Oregon - while reducing highway congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and boosting the economy and tourism. We'll highlight the transformational possibilities at the Cascadia Rail Partnership Conference, May 27-29 in Seattle and Portland. Don't miss it.

North American rail is at center stage on the transportation agenda. Eight billion dollars in U.S. stimulus money is kicking off a new series of improvements to the nation's rail systems. Beneficiaries could include the Amtrak Cascades passenger rail line which runs from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, and north to Vancouver, B.C.

Since 1994, Washington, Oregon, the federal government, regional agencies and railroads have made capital and operating investments of about $1 billion in the Amtrak Cascades line. Now - with President Obama prioritizing high speed rail - is the time to build on that investment. The visioning that precedes the hard work of securing full funding for passenger and freight rail improvements has begun anew. Vancouver Sun economic affairs columnist Miro Cernetig writes that the opportunity should be seized to strengthen U.S.-Canada links via improved Northwest rail service.

Additional information:

"Ottawa's Lack Of Vision May Derail Our High-Speed Rail Dreams," Vancouver Sun, 5/18/09

"Tourism Leaders Steaming Over Train Holdup," The Province, 5/15/09

"High Speed Rail: Region Should Climb Aboard," Everett Herald, 5/15/09

"Is Cascadia's Train Coming In?" Crosscut, 5/12/09

Hope For High Speed Rail On the West Coast," McClatchy News/Tacoma News Tribune, 5/10/09

"Planes, Trains, And...Two Vital Projects To Relieve Air Traffic Congestion," Washington Post editorial, 5/6/09

"Megaregions And High Speed Rail," Richard Florida, Creative Class Exchange blog, The Atlantic, 5/4/09

"Mayor Backs Plan For High Speed Rail From Oregon To B.C.," The Province, 4/26/09

"Next Stop: A Faster Train From Seattle To Portland," Tacoma News Tribune, 4/21/09

"Obama's Rail Plan Not So High Speed," The Oregonian, 4/21/09

"Spain's Bullet Train Changes Nation, And Fast," Wall Street Journal, 4/20/09

"Rail Advocates Laud Federal Announcement," Seattle, 4/16/09

"High Speed Rail Gets $8 Billion Boost; Northwest Could Benefit," Associated Press/Seattle Times, 4/16/09

Rail articles archive, Cascadia Prospectus blog, 2007-2009

"Vision For High Speed Rail In America: Strategic Investment Plan," Federal Railway Administration, USDOT, 4/09

Amtrak Cascades Long Range Plan, Washington State Department Of Transportation, 2006

Statewide Rail Capacity and System Needs Study," Washington State Transportation Commission, 2006


Deep Bored Tunnel To Replace Alaskan Way Viaduct - Latest Information

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire, Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and King County Executive Ron Sims in January 2009 proposed to replace the seismically vulnerable Alaskan Way Viaduct along Seattle's downtown waterfront on State Route 99 with an inland deep bored tunnel. Legislation authorizing and providing substantial funding for the tunnel passed the state senate and house, and on May 12 was signed into law by Gov. Gregoire. The tunnel is expected to cost $1.2 to $2.2 billion, most likely $1.9 billion, including a cushion for cost overruns. The legislation provides $2.8 billion for tunnel construction and Viaduct replacement. Other, related projects - funded by the city, county and Port of Seattle - would bring the total package's cost to $4.2 billion.  Here is the bill, as approved.

Links to media coverage and key documents follow.

Deep Bored Tunnel Bill Signed Into Law: News Round-up, 5/13/09

Tunnel FAQs, Cascadia Center

House OKs SR 99 Tunnel - News & Commentary, 4/22-24/09

Yakima Valley Fruit Growers Support Deep Bore Tunnel, KIRO-AM & Seattle P-I, 4/13/09

"Deep Bore Tunnel Is Best Replacement Option," Yakima Herald-Republic, 4/12/09

99 Corridor Coalition Bored Tunnel Program Update, 3/26/09

"The Time Has Come To Replace Viaduct With Tunnel, Seattle Times, 3/26/09

"Officials Give Viaduct Replacement Details To Ballard Residents," Seattle P-I, 3/23/09

"Expert: Viaduct Bored Tunnel Would Be World Class Project," Seattle P-I, 3/20/09

"Senate Passes Bill To Replace Viaduct With Tunnel," Seattle Times, 3/4/09

SR 99 Deep Bored Tunnel Project Fact Sheets And Maps, Washington State Department Of Transportation, 2/24/09

"WSDOT: Deep Bored Tunnel Would Be Safer In Earthquake," KOMO-AM 1000, 1/31/09

WSDOT: No Comparison Between Boston's "Big Dig" And SR 99 Tunnel, Tacoma News Tribune, 1/26/09

"The Viaduct Decision's Next Step: Tolling," Crosscut, 1/20/09

Deep Bored Tunnel Chosen: Jan.13-16 Media & Govt. Links (Radio, TV, Newspapers, State of WA, more) - includes Cascadia statement

More here.

Experts Say Tunnel Costs for Replacing Viaduct a Myth
Tunnel Pros Urge State, County, City to Weigh Real Costs as Decision Nears

Cascadia Center is urging state decision makers to give full, fair consideration of deep-bored tunnel costs to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Read Cascadia Center's release and supplemental material here.

State, King County, City Should Keep Tunnel Option
Letter to Governor, King County Executive, Mayor

Cascadia Center has sent a letter to Governor Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, and Mayor Greg Nickels, urging full inclusion of sub-surface options to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

In the letter, Cascadia, a longtime supporter of surface transit options, writes, "Surface transit options can be a part of a short-term solution. But lasting, long-term solutions can best be found in sub-surface scenarios."

Read the full article here.

Cascadia Says Tunnel Still Makes Sense
Letter to the Viaduct Stakeholders Advisory Committee

Cascadia Center has long advocated deep-bore tunnel options as the most effective replacement for the Viaduct. Details from a new ARUP report, commissioned by Cascadia, provide further support.

Read the full article here.

Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation
Fifth Annual TransTech Conference

On Sept. 4-5 Cascadia Center brought together elected and business leaders from around the country to address the perils of an oil-based economy. Topics included alternative fuels and energy, national security concerns, and best practices for moving forward. Plug-In Hybrid Bus displayed at the conference For more a post-conference wrapup, see the Event Page

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