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Is there a place for a high speed rail in Washington after I-976?

Could a high speed rail work in Washington? (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Despite the significant holes the implementation of I-976 will potentially put in Washington’s transportation budget, the push for a high speed rail connecting the state with Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC continues.

Northwest is closer to getting ultra high speed rail

This was evident at the Cascadia Rail Summit, where lawmakers, train companies, and high speed rail advocates met recently at Microsoft’s headquarters to discuss the future of the technology in Washington state.

At the summit — reported on by CBC News — WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar labeled the state’s system of highways, bridges, ferries, and rail cars as riding on “a glide path to failure.”

“Do you think we’ll ever get to a place where highway expansion keeps up with economic expansion and population?” he posited. “It will not happen.”

In response to the passing of I-976, Gov. Jay Inslee recently postponed all WSDOT projects not already underway. Despite that, he voiced his own support for a high speed rail at the summit in a video message to attendees.

A possible high speed rail system in the Pacific Northwest could see trains with maximum testing speeds of 250 miles per hour moving residents up and down the region. For reference, Amtrak’s Acela Express tops out at 154 miles an hour, but averages half that speed on its route between Washington, D.C. and Boston.

“It could be a game changer,” said WSDOT spokesperson Janet Matkin, speaking about the train last summer.

Millions to be spent on studying high-speed rail for Washington

At Microsoft’s Cascadia Rail Summit, attendees looked to lay a roadmap for a future where I-976 might gut transportation projects across Washington. The hope is to enlist the help of both private investors and federal partners both in Canada and the U.S.

Other funding ideas pitched at the summit included a carbon fee, property taxes tied to future rail stations, congestion pricing, and more.

By one recent estimate, the cost of a high speed rail system connecting British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon would run between $24 and $42 billion. A recent study estimated that the system could raise $165 million in annual revenue after a few years in operation.

The Canadian province and two states are currently partnered with Microsoft on a study to look into the feasibility — both financially and logistically — of a high speed rail in the so-called Cascadia region.

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