Opinion

Half-hour train ride to Portland is no fantasy

Michael Zirkle is a Pierce County based writer for Cascadia Rail, an advocacy group for a high-speed intercity rail network in the Pacific Northwest.
Michael Zirkle is a Pierce County based writer for Cascadia Rail, an advocacy group for a high-speed intercity rail network in the Pacific Northwest.

Tacoma is growing. With all the major developments in our future, the city is expected to add up to 127,000 residents by 2040, and the metro area will gain 1.8 million by 2050.

As anyone who travels Interstate-5 knows, this means more traffic. Our region has some of the worst congestion in America, including congestion around construction projects meant to solve the congestion.

As people move to Tacoma seeking a lower cost of living, they are experiencing slower commutes. Meanwhile, the 253 area needs to be better positioned to attract jobs in its own right.

Tacoma needs a solution that solves commuting challenges, attracts businesses and connects residents to new opportunities.

Can you imagine a solution that put Seattle and Tacoma just a 10-minute train ride apart, and Portland a half hour away? This is no pipe dream.

A recent, initial state study showed high-speed rail could remove up to 17 percent of trips from our freeways. The study suggested high-speed rail would add at least 200,000 jobs per year to the Cascadia Innovation Corridor and $400 billion in annual economic output.

Current public transit projects in the works will facilitate fast connections within communities, but we need better connections between major cities. This is critical for economic competitiveness in the coming years.

That’s why a new group of advocates from Vancouver, Bellingham, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, and Portland came together to connect Cascadia through high-speed intercity rail.

The vision of Cascadia Rail is to create astonishingly fast connections within the Pacific Northwest — north to south, east to west. Tacoma is central to our vision.

Why is this important?

▪  It’s good for workers and quality of life. Short commutes are critical for reducing income inequality. High-speed rail can reduce a 2-hour commute to 15 minutes.

▪ It’s good for business. The global economy is driven by global cities. The Cascadia Innovation Corridor has thirteen Fortune 500 companies, which can be more accessible to more people by reducing travel times between cities.

▪ It’s good for tourism. Fifty seven million annual visitors to Cascadia’s metro areas spend nearly $7 billion and generate plenty of local tax revenue. Faster, easier connections help more people see more places including Tacoma’s museums, Northwest wine country, Spokane’s riverfront and all the iconic towns in between.

▪ It’s good for economic development. Growth is occurring in our largest cities but other places are left out. By improving connections, more urban places become attractive for commercial and residential growth.

▪ It keeps our great places great. Cascadia is an amazing place. We should experience more of it while spoiling it less with long car trips and congested roads.

But there’s a hiccup in moving towards this vision. Washington’s initial high-speed rail study provided basic information.

The next step is an investment-grade study robust enough to either attract the type of private investment going on in Florida and Texas, or give Oregon, Washington and British Columbia the details they need to consider funding such a transformational project.

Legislators are proposing an investment-grade study but have offered only one-fourth of the funding needed. Pierce County legislators, including Rep. Jake Fey and Sens. Hans Zeiger and Steve O’Ban, sit on the committees most critical to getting this done.

We want solutions that attract global investment in Tacoma and Pierce County. We also want our time back and don’t want to spend hours a day on freeways.

Cascadia Rail asks you to contact your legislators and ask them for funding to make a better future possible.

Michael Zirkle of Sumner is an urban studies student at University of Washington Tacoma and a writer for Cascadia Rail. Reach him by email at zirkle92@gmail.com

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