Rapid rail for Cascadia? B.C., Washington and Oregon sign pact on high-speed transportation

BigStock Photo / Taras Rudenko

Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia have agreed to work together to bring bullet trains or other forms of ultra-high-speed ground transportation to connect major population centers in the Cascadia region.

Below a memorandum of understanding (MOU) announced in the Cascadia Innovation Corridor In Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday afternoon, the US states and the province of Canada will form a joint policy committee to coordinate their planning and seek funding for the long-discussed initiative.

Ultimately, the goal is to get people from Portland to Vancouver, BC, in just two hours. A poll released earlier this year by proponents of the concept indicated that a majority of voters in Washington and Oregon support the idea.

The MOU says the recently passed US Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act and the Build Back Better plan “provide a unique and timely opportunity for the Cascadia region to compete for future federal funding to support the project.” .

Rapid rail for Cascadia BC Washington and Oregon sign pact
Washington Governor Jay Inslee appears virtually at the Cascadia Innovation Corridor conference. (Screenshot via webcast).

Washington Governor Jay Inslee, one of the signatories to the memorandum of understanding, said during the conference that he expects up to $ 1 billion in funding to be made available for “the major planning process along the coast. “.

Inslee said the closing of the US-Canada border increased recognition of the importance of regional cross-border connection, illustrating “why all this work that we’re doing on high-speed rail and everything else is so critical.”

Oregon Governor Kate Brown and British Columbia Prime Minister John Horgan signed the memorandum of understanding with Inslee. The preamble cites the challenges that expected growth will bring to the Cascadia region in the coming decades. The combined population, currently around 9.5 million people, is projected to expand from 3 to 4 million people by 2050.

These challenges “require a regional effort to develop innovative approaches to transportation, land use, and housing infrastructure that prioritize equity and sustainability while reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” the memorandum reads. understanding.

At the same time, the MOU acknowledges its own symbolic nature, saying that it “will not have any legal effect or impose a legally binding obligation in the state of Washington, the province of British Columbia, or the state of Oregon.”

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Brad Smith, president of Microsoft. (Screenshot via webcast).

High-speed transportation supports the goal of expanding growth, supporting housing affordability, and addressing the challenge of homelessness, Microsoft President Brad Smith said in his keynote address at the event.

“We can make sure that when people look at the future of high-speed rail and other forms of transportation on this continent, they are not only looking at the northeast part of the continent, they are also looking at the northwest,” Smith said at the conference Tuesday. late. “That should be our goal.”

The deal comes as global events demonstrate the challenge of moving around the region even today. Canada reopened its border to vaccinated Americans ease restrictions imposed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Destructive storms and torrential rains hit the region on Monday, just as government and corporate leaders attempted to travel from the United States to Canada for the fifth annual conference.

Former Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, host of the conference and executive director of Seattle Challenge, said it tested several highways and secondary roads with no success.

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Former Washington Governor Chris Gregoire, host of the conference and CEO of Challenge Seattle, opens the Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference with Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia. (Screenshot via webcast).

“I went to places I had never heard of, or have never been to, and I have no intention of going back,” Gregoire recalled opening the conference. “And then I gave up, drove back to Sea-Tac, got a room, and flew here this morning.”

Interregional connections are already strong, if sports talks are any indication.

Appearing on stage with Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of British Columbia, Gregoire wore a Vancouver Canucks jersey, fulfilling the bet he lost to D’Avignon when the Canucks beat the new Seattle NHL franchise. , the Kraken, 4-2, in their first regular-season meeting on October 23.

In a later session with Inslee, BC Horgan’s prime minister joked that it was important to improve cultural connections in the Cascadia region “so that the Kraken can improve over time.”

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