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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Anthony Gill: High-speed rail would transform our state

Anthony Gill

Spokane … a better future is possible.

Spokane is growing.

Between the major developments transforming our city (like Kendall Yards, the Wonder Building, Spokane Central Market, the Falls, and the Catalyst), our world-class arts and culture community, and stellar quality of life, it’s no wonder why. According to the Spokane Regional Transportation Commission, by 2040, the Spokane metro area is expected to add as many as 140,000 people.

With this growth will come major challenges in transportation, land use, housing and regional connectivity. Public transit expansion, land use changes, and significantly more housing units in the core will go a long way toward ensuring Spokane remains a “city of choice” for years to come.

But getting between cities – as will become more critical for economic competitiveness in coming years – is still a major challenge.

That’s why a new group of advocates spanning Vancouver, Bellingham, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma and Portland are coming together to connect Cascadia through high-speed intercity transport. While Washington state has been studying this, there’s nothing like a mobilized base of support across our region to help make it a reality.

The vision of Cascadia Rail is to connect Spokane and Eastern Washington to a high-speed transportation network which will, among other things, connect Vancouver to Seattle and Seattle to Portland in less than 90 minutes. The east-west line won’t immediately reach bullet-train status, but even less significant changes, like a passenger route via Stampede Pass, could still make a dramatic improvement over our existing rail system. At minimum, we believe you should be able to get to Seattle faster than driving. This is why we believe in this vision:

  • It’s good for economic development. Disproportionate economic growth has plagued our region’s largest cities – and contributed to increasing inequality between the areas east and west of the Cascade Mountains. Fast, convenient and reliable connections across the region will allow Spokane and the rest of Eastern Washington to share in the West Side’s economic growth. That means more family-wage jobs and increased opportunity.
  • It’s good for quality of life. Five hours to Seattle is too long sitting in a car – and once you consider airport hassle, security, waiting and transport to your destination, flying isn’t much faster. Intercity commuters, leisure and business travelers, and tens of thousands of Eastern Washington college students deserve a faster, better experience.
  • It’s good for tourism. Seattle sees 39 million visitors each year. Vancouver and Portland each see 9 million, and in sum these visitors contribute $4 billion to $7 billion per metropolitan area and a load of local taxes. Let’s get more of those visitors to Eastern Washington, to play in the beautiful outdoors, sip world-class wine, and experience our artsy, quirky culture.
  • It keeps our great places great. The Pacific Northwest is an amazing place. We should experience more of it, and spoil it less with long car trips, sprawling development and choked roads.

As the 21st century economy continues to change the way we live, work and play – and as Spokane continues to grow into its own as a thriving city unencumbered by its more resource-driven past – our region’s ability to compete will be driven by our ability to connect. Cascadia Rail will vigorously advocate safe, fast, high-capacity passenger connections between the Pacific Northwest’s largest cities – including Spokane.

Right now, the Legislature is advancing proposals for studies of rail improvements across the state. While the proposed transportation budget in the state Senate explicitly calls for a study of an electrified east-west rail connection to travel from Seattle through Cle Elem, Ellensburg, Yakima, Toppenish and the Tri-Cities, it does not provide funding – and it apparently omits Spokane. The House version grants $900,000 for further study of high-speed rail, but leaves out Eastern Washington, and lacks sufficient funding for a full, in-depth business case and ridership analysis.

We urge Spokane residents to contact their legislators to support further study of rail to Spokane, and in support of the full $3.6 million rail study. Join us in advocating high-speed rail as an important next step in our region’s transportation future.

Anthony Gill is a Spokane native who serves on the board of Cascadia Rail, a grassroots organization advocating ultra high-speed ground transportation to connect the Pacific Northwest.