Report from the Bi-State Forum

I attended the Bi-State Metropolitan Forum (subtitled: Building a Healthy Economy for Oregon and Washington) yesterday.

We were addressed by Mayor Potter of Portland and Mayor Pollard of Vancouver, and both Governors, as well as Metro President David Bragdon and an economic development expert from Rhode Island.

The Columbia River Crossing was a recurrent transportation theme (its importance to our economy). Both Mayors endorsed Light Rail to Vancouver and Mayor Potter was explicit that this should be over both the I-5 and I-205 bridges.

Both Mayors also discussed the idea of merging the Ports of Portland and Vancouver into one organization.

Governor Kulongoski made a big point out of biodiesel, and Governor Gregoire talked about alternative energy and energy independence (including less dependence on the existing hydro resources). The idea of some kind of bi-state transportation district or compact to get around differences in Oregon and Washington governance frameworks was also thrown out.

There was a panel with senior managers from each DOT and there was a big emphasis on gaining credibility with voters by delivering projects on time and on budget (are the Tram folks listening?). ODOT director Matt Garrett mentioned the need for about $180M in freight rail investment on the Oregon side of the river (Washington has already allocated about $100M on their side) and the difficulty of making this a public investment since the rails are privately owned.

By the time we got to the breakout session on transportation, a little bit of reality got injected. At my table a Clark County Commissioner said that the voters in Clark County weren’t ready for Light Rail yet. There was some good discussion about more focus on job/housing balance to reduce demand on the Columbia River bridges.

Between the Governors and the lunch speaker, there was also some focus on the idea of thinking in terms of a “Pacific NW” region or metroplex extending from Eugene to Vancouver, BC.

Lots of ideas and hopefully building some connections, but no lightening bolts.

10 responses to “Report from the Bi-State Forum”

  1. “there was also some focus on the idea of thinking in terms of a “Pacific NW” region or metroplex extending from Eugene to Vancouver, BC.”

    Chris, that sounds exactly like the “Cascadia bioregion” that people have been discussing for years. I think it makes a lot of sense to acknowledge more thoroughly the ecological region we’re living in, and the bi-state commission seems like an appropriate venue to inject some new language into our wider consciousness.
    I am happy to see Vancouver included in the discussion. People seem to get so imprisoned by the political boundaries we are currently living within, and forget that in many ways Vancouver is just as interconnected with us as with the rest of Canada.

    Just my 2 cents on a fairly minor aspect of your report-back.

  2. Andrew, it’s interesting that there’s a recognition that the economic region and the ecological region might be aligned. We need to figure out how to make use of that.

    Interestingly, the luncheon speaker (the out-of-town expert) said it would only work as an integrated economic system (i.e., enterprises in one city can integrate capabilities of enteriprises in the other cities into their value chains) if there is high-speed rail linking the cities!

  3. This goes right along with the idea of looking at everything regionally – employment, companies’ business strategies/HQ, transportation, etc…

    This is pretty evident throughout the industrialized world – London, Paris, Tokyo-Yokohama, the New England megalopolis… all comprise of the land that surrounds these places, giving them their unique cultural, economic, and (if theres any left) ecological identity.

    Hopefully us Cascadia types will be more successful at reigning in sprawl and promoting the ecological cycle – with all the destruction of natural areas, I think we can all pretty much agree natural places will become a lot more valuable in the future.

    However, one weird thought – when we do get high speed rail installed – imagine people commuting from Eugene to Portland everyday on it. Kind of weird… and I bet land/housing prices will skyrocket in pretty much every town the train stops at. Which will, of course, promote denser development.

  4. Justin, your thought isn’t weird. It is our dream that High Speed Rail becomes the backbone of Cascadia. Higher Densities at our major cities along I5 seems quite logical and helps individuals who wish to live outside of PDX (for a more rural feeling in the southern valley say) but still able to work in the PDX region possible.

    Its sounding more and more like the two states are understanding the potential of the Columbia River Crossing being the Cascadia Symbol (beautiful and sustainable) for our region.

    I sure hope high speed rail is part of that symbol. If we can get four modes (auto, people, local transit, inter-city) of travel onto that crossing, the World would be impressed.

    Ray Whitford

  5. Ray-

    Interestingly I ran across the amtrak cascades wiki tonight and found some interesting tidbits. Apparently WSDOT has been working on a whole slew of rail upgrades for the I-5 corridor, including bypass tracks through Tacoma and high speed switches. Washington will be adding a 4th round-trip train between Portland-Seattle this year, with a 1 hour reduction in trip time to 2:30 – and they will finally start up RAIL (not bus) service to Vancouver, Canada!

    Awesome news!

    -I just hope its accurate. Wiki generally is tho…

  6. Justin wrote,
    “However, one weird thought – when we do get high speed rail installed – imagine people commuting from Eugene to Portland everyday on it.”

    You must be a nutty as Kitty Piercy who said, in 1995, that she couldn’t wait for light rail to be extended to Eugene.

    First, we don’t have high speed rail in the USA, anywhere. We have trains that run at 1940 speeds that are called high speed.

    We would need new track; no crossings; and, of course no stops between Portland. Salem and Eugene. High speed rail is NOT possible with track routing through the heart of cities.

    Even with high speeds, the door-to-door time and the limited number of trains would make the “high-speed” train less convenient than autos.

    I’m not even going to go into the insanity of the trip cost.


  7. Mel –

    Justin did include the caveat that it was a “weird” thought, so it isn’t necessary for you to infer that he is “nutty”.

    Furthermore, it is not hard to imagine such a commuting scenario at all. It may be hard to implement, a long way off, and potentially very expensive, but still not hard to imagine.

    People commute long distances today on Caltrain (53mi from San Jose to SF in 57 minutes), which is not a high-speed service, and routinely commute up to 40 miles each way on BART, a fast but not high-speed service.

    It is certainly easy to envision a Salem-Portland commute via conventional rail, and if a high-speed link can get Eugene-Portland well under 90 minutes someday, you’ll see it happen. Not in large numbers, but it could happen.

    – Bob R.

  8. This would be a great advantage to the NW. Here’s how we can get high-speed (200 MPH) rail in 10 years. Take ALL the money, federal, state, and local for road construction (not maintenance) and put it into rails. The government has subsidized roads for 60 years, neglecting rails almost completely. Let the rails catch up on the lost years and lost funding. Crazy, but sensible. Ok, maybe not all the money, but 85%…

  9. Really? No reactions on the fact that WSDOT is adding more trains, shortening travel times, and we will finally get a rail link to BC?! Sheesh guys… not on the ball this week, eh?

  10. OK, so I’ve got another proposal for the Columbia River Crossing:

    A regional commuter rail network, based initially on DMU technology. The relevant two links would be Vancouver to Washington County, and Vancouver to Downtown Portland.

    This would not replace light rail, but rather supplement it.

    The Vancouver to Washington County connection would utilize abandoned rail ROW that runs from near the west end of the St. Johns Bridge to the Beaverton/Hillsboro area, and would require extension track, bed and trestle reconstruction.

    Perhaps DMU service could be implemented before light rail service; in this scenario, the Portland to Vancouver run might ultimately be replaced by light rail into downtown Vancouver… or it might remain as a more expensive express service.

    It would be interesting to determine if a stop near St. Johns might be possible for both of these services, as the only interim stop between Portland and Vancouver.

    Longer-term, this basic network could add routes to Columbia County (St. Helens & Scapoose), to McMinnville, and out the Gorge to Hood River & The Dalles.

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