Move to create Washington High-Speed Rail Authority

January 22, 2019

Last week, Democrats in the Washington State Senate introduced a new appropriations bill that contains language dedicating just over $3 million towards “the development of a new ultra high-speed ground transportation corridor authority.” The language defines "ultra high-speed" as a maximum testing speed of at least 250 mph (the TGV tested at 357 mph). It is a big step towards the construction of a true high-speed rail system in the Pacific Northwest.

The high-speed rail authority will be responsible for ensuring coordination between Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. It will need to identify issues of jurisdiction, discrepancies in regulatory requirements, and the like. The authority will also take on the initial planning functions required to design the high-speed corridor, including decisions regarding track alignment and funding levels. This includes participating in the environmental review process required by the FRA, as well as corresponding processes for the Canadian government’s environmental review requirements.

Large projects such as this require a dedicated entity to ensure their success. California set the stage for this type of high-speed rail development structure in 1988 when they passed legislation to create a high-speed rail commission. The commission was charged with recommending a governance structure and doing the initial planning. It recommended the creation of a high-speed rail authority, which was established in 1996.

Completing a project of this scope requires a separate agency to maintain the significant focus that the project demands. The separate agency is freed from the day to day demands of an established Department of Transportation. At the same time, working closely with the state Department of Transportation is necessary for a coordinated planning process. It ensures that each piece of the transportation system can feed into each other, creating a virtuous cycle of connectivity. It’s great to see that the Pacific Northwest is following suit.

For the Midwest, this is just one more example states can use to move forward with their own high-speed rail system development. We would like to see at least one state take this step toward a 220 mph high-speed line.