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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Bill would create plan for easing freight

Murray, Cantwell proposal targets congestion, safety

Washington’s two U.S. senators are spearheading legislation to drive more planning and funding to freight.

Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, both Democrats, are sponsoring a bill called the National Multimodal Freight Policy and Investment Act.

Washington’s economy relies heavily on shipping and trade, including increasing amounts of oil and coal.

The legislation would create a blueprint for reducing freight bottlenecks and congestion across the country, and increase funding for new grade separations – building bridges and tunnels to separate roads from rail.

The bill is based on recommendations of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Freight Advisory Committee.

Cantwell said in a recent news release that the U.S. must improve its freight infrastructure to remain competitive.

Freight bottlenecks and congestion cost the U.S. economy about $200 billion a year, she said.

The bill would authorize spending $2 billion a year through 2021 on multimodal freight projects.

Some of the money would go for grade separations, something that has been a priority in Spokane Valley and North Idaho. There is also a smaller pot of money for upgrading short-line tracks where they intersect with mainline tracks, another local issue.

Rail safety has become a major concern in the Inland Northwest where shipments of coal and oil from the Northern Plains are passing through Spokane and North Idaho daily on the way to coastal ports.

While the freight investment bill currently lacks bipartisan sponsorship, it has the potential to become an issue during the 2016 federal elections.

The bill is supported by the Coalition for America’s Gateways and Trade Corridors, a lobbying arm for government transportation planning organizations, ports, engineering firms and government transportation agencies.

A more modest approach to funding freight projects is being pursued with Republican lawmakers as part of the renewal of the federal transportation law, which could occur this summer, according to Cantwell’s staff.

The current extension of the highway bill is set to expire July 31, and lawmakers are working on a comprehensive update of that law.

“The Senate will have to act on transportation given the upcoming expiration, and the senator is working to incorporate her bill into that legislation,” Reid Walker, communications director for Cantwell, said in an email. 

U.S. 195 renovation project starts today

Work is expected to start today on a renovation project on the southbound lanes of U.S. Highway 195 through the Latah Creek Valley from Interstate 90 to Excelsior Road.

The highway has older concrete panels for pavement that were installed in two phases in 1955 and 1969.

More than 650 concrete panels will be replaced. Another 190 will be partially replaced. And 120 panels will be lifted and stabilized. Cracks will be sealed in panels not replaced.

The older panels will also be ground down to smooth the overall surface of the highway.

William Winkler Co., of Spokane, won a $4.7 million construction bid for the job.

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