U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood toured the North Spokane Corridor on Thursday to call attention to a new effort to ease transportation bottlenecks that stall the delivery of goods around the country.
LaHood was joined by U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who has been pushing Congress to create a national freight mobility office. The office would prioritize freight projects nationwide.
But the bill has been stalled by the Republican-controlled House, Cantwell said.
LaHood, a former Illinois congressman, made the flight to Spokane to announce that he has enough authority under a recently enacted transportation bill to develop a strategy and convene a Freight Policy Council that will have an advisory panel involving representatives from the industry.
The effort will dovetail with a directive from President Barack Obama to double U.S. exports by 2015, LaHood said.
“We must develop a national strategic vision,” LaHood said at a press event at the Parksmith Drive interchange on the North Spokane Corridor.
Washington state is considered a leader in developing a strategy to identify projects that will speed the movement of goods by road, rails, air and sea.
Traffic congestion in Western Washington slows shipping, which raises costs for fuel and wages.
The national freight strategy “will be modeled after what you do here in Washington,” LaHood said.
Cantwell said Washington shippers carried 533 million tons of goods across the state in 2010. That amount is expected to increase by 86 percent by 2040.
“We will only seize the opportunity for growth if we make the right investments today,” Cantwell said.
Cantwell and LaHood said the North Spokane Corridor is an example of a project that is helping deliver the goods.
Matt Ewers, vice president of IEDS in Spokane Valley, said his distribution company is already making use of the five and a half miles of corridor currently open to traffic.
Faster freight movement means reduced costs to both trucking companies and their customers. “Think about freight as pounds per hour,” Ewers said.
Keith Metcalf, regional administrator for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said construction of southbound lanes between the Freya Street and Farwell Road interchanges should be completed and opened to traffic in the next several days.
That segment was constructed with a $35 million grant from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) program.
A second $10 million TIGER grant will pay for construction in the vicinity of Francis Avenue.
Connecting the freeway to Interstate 90 will cost another $1.3 billion. Funding for completion is currently unavailable.