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Freight

Pictures of Freight Carriers
The three components of Washington's freight system – international gateways, transportation serving Washington's producers and manufacturers, and the retail and wholesale distribution systems – underpin our national and state economies, support national defense, directly sustain hundreds of thousands of jobs, and distribute the necessities of life to every resident of the state everyday.

Washington is a gateway state, connecting:

  • Asian trade flows to the U.S. economy
  • Alaska to the Lower 48
  • Canada to the U.S. West Coast

About 70 percent of international goods entering Washington gateways continue on to the larger U.S. market. Thirty percent become part of Washington's manufactured output or are distributed in our retail system.

Our own state's manufacturers and farmers rely on the freight system to ship Washington-made products to local customers, to the big U.S. markets in California and on the east coast, and worldwide. Washington producers generate wealth and jobs in every region of the state.

Washington's distribution system is a fundamental local utility, since without it our citizens would have nothing to eat, nothing to wear, nothing to read, no spare parts, no fuel for their cars, and no heat for their homes. In other words, the economy of the region would no longer function.

The value and volume of goods moving in these freight systems is huge and growing.

International and National Trade Flows Through Washington

Washington Gateways

National and international economies rely on the efficiency and capacity of Washington's transportation systems. In 2002, almost $96 billion of goods entered or departed the U.S. stream of commerce through Washington's global gateways, facilitating international trade with U.S. trading partners. About seventy percent of international goods entering Washington gateways are destined for the larger U.S. market. International and national trade routes run through our state on both east-west and north-south corridors.

Gateways Connect Asia to the U.S. via East-West Corridors

Washington's Puget Sound seaports move large volumes of imported manufactured goods that are shipped in containers from Asian trading partners. The ports of Tacoma and Seattle, combined, are among the top three marine container cargo complexes in North America, handling 8.2 percent of total U.S. container traffic. About 76 percent of all international containers arriving at these ports are transferred to rail and delivered to the Midwest and/or the East Coast. The annual volume of containers through Puget Sound seaports is expected to more than double from 2002 to 2025 (some 80 percent of this growth will be international).

U.S. Agricultural Exports Rely on Washington's Transportation System

Washington's transportation system is also important for U.S. agricultural exports. In 2002, food and food products totaling almost 20 million tons were, by volume, the largest commodities leaving our seaports. Agricultural products such as wheat, corn, and soybeans, from the Midwest and Eastern Washington travel by barge and rail through the Columbia River ports of Vancouver, Kalama, and Longview to Asian buyers.

Washington Gateways Support National Defense

Washington State gateways are a critical link in the U.S. defense and national security system. Fort Lewis is the only Power Projection Platform on the West Coast. In the event of a major military conflict, inbound cargo needed for mobilization will travel by road and rail across the U.S. for shipment out of the Port of Tacoma. The Port of Seattle is a designated sustainment port, used to ship consumable supplies to troops in the event of a major overseas conflict.

Canadian - U.S. Trade is Trucked on North-South Corridors

Canada has a long history as a significant U.S. trading partner, and Canadian trade is big business in the state. In 2002, $16 billion in U.S. - Canadian trade was imported or exported through Washington. The majority of these goods are transported by truck along the I-5 corridor through the Western Washington border crossings of Blaine, Sumas and Lynden. About half of the trucks deliver goods within Washington State, and half transit the state to link the Canadian and the greater U.S. economies. Blaine is, by far, the busiest truck crossing in Washington State; in 2002 it was the fifth busiest in the nation. Cross-border truck volumes in Western Washington have nearly doubled over the past 11 years.

Washington Links Alaska to the Lower 48 States

In addition to international trade, Washington is a key gateway for trade with Alaska. By tonnage, crude petroleum from Alaska is the greatest waterborne commodity entering Washington State. In 2002, almost 25 million tons of crude petroleum was carried to Washington State from Alaska, using the inland waterways and landing at Puget Sound refineries. In turn, needed consumer products leave Washington seaports for Alaska. In 2002, more than 77 percent of domestic waterborne cargo tonnage entering Alaska originated from Washington State.

Time-Sensitive Freight Travels by Air

Our airports are critical for the fast shipment of goods to and from national and international markets. High-value, time-sensitive products from computer chips to fresh fish and perishable fruits travel through these gateways. Washington's largest volume of air cargo is received at

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, which ranks eighteenth in the United States by tons of cargo handled.

Competitive Advantages

Washington has built on its natural advantages: deepwater ports, proximity to fast-growing Asian and Canadian economies, and a short all-water route to Alaska, to create an enormously valuable multi-modal freight infrastructure. As a result, Washington also gains advantage from the region's "soft" trade infrastructure: human capital that facilitates financial, legal, and other international business issues.

Distribution Systems: Wholesale and Retail

By far, the greatest volume of trucks on our roads and highways serve the daily needs of Washington consumers through the wholesale and retail distribution system. Up to 80 percent of all truck trips operate in the local distribution system.

An enormous variety of goods are handled on this system; food and groceries, fuel, pharmaceuticals and medical supplies, retail stock, office supplies and documents, trash and garbage, construction materials and equipment. Without these goods, and the transportation system that moves the goods, Washington citizens would be without the daily necessities of life. High-volume distributors' goals for Washington's freight system are on-time delivery (50 percent), price (38 percent) and reliable trip time (12 percent). Source: WSDOT survey, 2004.

Grocery, Food Service, Retail, Parcels and Medical Supplies

Final distribution of goods is almost 100 percent by truck. For example, a huge volume of truck trips serves the daily needs of grocery shoppers. Efficient and cost-effective transportation is necessary to keep goods on the shelf at the lowest cost to consumers. A typical large grocery store receives two big semi-tractor-trailer deliveries and ten to twenty other specialized deliveries per day. Specialty markets, such as the Metropolitan Market on Seattle's Queen Anne Hill, may receive 375 van and small truck deliveries per week.

High-value, time-critical deliveries such as business documents and packages, cash in armored cars, and critical medical supplies and drug deliveries, must move quickly through the freight distribution system. When faced with transportation uncertainty, many companies are forced to add expensive buffer to their inventory stores. The costs of maintaining additional inventory – including space to store it, carrying and handling charges, waste and damage jeopardize the sustainability of these companies and the services they provide.

The Refuse System – Garbage Trucks Take It All Away

In 2001, Washington generated almost nine million tons of solid waste, over eight pounds per person per day. Garbage trucks pick up over 12,000 tons of residential and commercial waste every day and deliver it to transfer stations and landfills. Seventy percent of Washington's solid waste is shipped by railcar to the Roosevelt landfill in eastern Washington and to several Oregon landfills. Three 100-car trains of garbage arrive at Roosevelt every day, full of Washington garbage.

The Fuel Distribution System

In 2001, citizens of Washington State used 17.6 million gallons of petroleum every day. How does all that gas get to the gas station?

First, crude oil is processed at five refineries in Washington State; these refineries produce 89 percent of the petroleum needs for Washington State and 70 percent of Oregon's needs (there are no refineries in Oregon). The Olympic Pipe Line carries 50 to 60 percent of the output of these refineries to distribution centers in Western Washington, and is the sole source of jet fuel for Sea-Tac Airport. Two other pipelines serve Eastern Washington. Fuel that does not move by pipeline gets to distribution centers by barge or small tanker. Tanker trucks then make the final delivery to 2,800 gas stations throughout Washington State. Large gas stations may receive one or two fuel trucks each day, smaller facilities might receive one truckload of fuel per week.

Washington Producers and Manufacturers

Our state's regions have built strong and distinct economies based on industry and agriculture. Regional manufacturing, agriculture, construction, and forestry depend on an effective and efficient freight transportation system.

Agriculture is big business in our state and supports the family farm as well as agri-business. In 2002, Washington State farmers and ranchers produced $5.6 billion in food and agricultural products. Transportation is especially important for Washington agriculture because the state produces about three times as much food – and for some commodities up to twenty times as much – as it consumes, and is separated by long distances from the majority of the nation's consumers.

Manufacturing is rebounding in Washington State. In 2003, manufacturing Gross Business Revenues were $88.3 billion, 21.3 percent of the total State Gross Business Income. The sector employed more than 265,000 workers (13 percent of all jobs) and paid 16 percent of total wages in Washington.

Regional Economies Rely on Washington's Freight System


Southeast Washington Sells Wheat to the World

Nationally, Washington ranked third in wheat production with 130 million bushels grown on 2.7 million acres in 2002. Eighty-five percent of Washington State wheat is sold to export markets, primarily Asia.

Only 50 percent of wheat growers are highly satisfied with the current performance of the state freight system. Maintenance and preservation of the Columbia River and the Snake River channels and locks are critical as 92 percent of southeast Washington wheat is shipped to Columbia River ports. Wheat growers say that getting their grain to the port on time, transportation costs, and adequate grain storage at the right locations are their big issues. Southeast Washington farmers shipping other foods to Central Puget Sound need improvements on I-90 at Snoqualmie Pass to prevent winter weather closures. All growers surveyed cite the need for a core all-weather county road system.

The Columbia Basin and North Central Washington: Agricultural Growing and Processing Center

87,500 jobs in the Columbia Basin and North Central Washington are directly dependent on our freight system. Washington is the second largest potato producing state in the country, and 90 percent of Washington potatoes are shipped to the U.S. market. Washington State ranked number one nationally in apple production, with a value of $1.02 billion in 2002; 70 percent of apples are sold in the United States. Apples and potatoes must be shipped in refrigerated truck or rail cars; 90 percent is trucked. Continued refrigerated truck shortages are likely due to seasonal peak demands, and an ongoing pull from other U.S. regions for refrigerated capacity.

Timber sales from tribal lands such as those owned by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Yakama Nation have become an important industry in Eastern Washington. Washington's harvest from tribal lands totaled 324 million board-feet in 2001; almost 300 million board-feet of the harvest was in Eastern Washington.

Growers and processors are seeking a solution to reposition refrigerated equipment, and I-90 Snoqualmie Pass improvements to avoid severe weather closures. Growers need a core all-weather county road system, and in the long run are interested in improving Highway 97 south to California markets.

Central Puget Sound Manufacturing, Construction, and Maritime Center

Freight dependent industries employed 484,000 in manufacturing, transportation, construction, and wholesale trade in Central Puget Sound in 2002. The Boeing Company is Washington's largest manufacturer, with $22.4 billion in revenues in 2003. Boeing's dependence on the freight system will be even greater as it sets new levels of efficiency in the manufacture of the new 7E7 Dreamliner. Another 6,500 mid-market manufacturing companies employed 150,000 in the region, and the maritime industry employed over 22,000 in King County alone.

Shippers and carriers in Central Puget Sound need solutions to I-5 congestion from Olympia to Everett, as there is no practical alternative route to the state's major freight corridor. The majority of Washington State air cargo moves through SeaTac and King County Airports, and I-5 congestion directly impacts reliability and on-time performance of the air cargo system. Industry inventory reduction strategies are driving shorter on-time delivery windows for producers and carriers, and those business needs are also driving demand for a solution to I-405 congestion, completion of major freight corridors such as Highway 509, Highway 167/ I-5 and Highway 18 to I-90, the Alaskan Way Viaduct, port connections, Fast Action Strategy (FAST) projects including SR519/Royal Brougham, the Cross Base Highway, ferry system freight runs, and local truck route programs.

Spokane Region Eastside Center of Manufacturing and Commerce

52,000 jobs in the Spokane region are directly dependent on the freight system, and the regional health care center receives vital supplies via the I-90 corridor. Fifty-six percent of Spokane manufacturers identified on-time delivery as the most important freight service, while 26 percent say price is the most important factor.

Spokane manufacturers and carriers say that meeting those customer needs will require I-90 Snoqualmie Pass improvements to avoid winter weather closures, as well as solutions to mainline congestion in Puget Sound and I-90 pavement rutting. They support a local truck route program and grade separations at high-impact crossings.

Vancouver: Southwest Washington Metropolitan Area

48,000 jobs in the Vancouver metro region directly depend on the freight system, in manufacturing, construction, trade and transportation. Clark County's economy is integrally linked with that of the larger Vancouver/Portland metropolitan area. The Vancouver/Portland metro region is connected by two bridges over the Columbia River on I-5 and I-205, while comparable cities such as Kansas City has 10 bridges and Cincinnati has seven. East Clark County's high-tech industries value speed of transit to ship high-value parts on I-205, the fast route to Portland International Airport. Vancouver manufacturers and carriers ship product to Central Puget Sound, Portland, and California and require a solution to I-5 congestion from Olympia to Everett and on the Columbia River Bridge. They also support Columbia River channel maintenance, deepening and barge access, improving I-90 Snoqualmie Pass to avoid winter weather closures, and local truck route programs.

Northwest Washington

31,000 jobs in Whatcom and Skagit Counties rely on freight. The region's manufacturing sector's customers are predominately to the south and ship via the I-5 corridor. Their first priority is I-5 congestion from Olympia to Everett that delays fast truck service to California and Washington markets, airfreight to and from Sea-Tac International Airport, and container moves to the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma. Border delays caused by multiple federal databases regulating freight transport are an issue, as is the need for all-weather local roads, and improved east-west connections between I-5 and the Guide Meridian and Highway 9.

Coastal Counties

16,000 jobs in Clallam, Grays Harbor, Mason, Pacific and Wahkiakum Counties are in freight-dependent industries such as manufacturing and forestry. The forest industry in Washington is the second largest in the nation, behind Oregon, with about 10 percent of U.S. forestry employment. Over 90 percent of Pacific and Grays Harbor Counties are in forestland, and privately owned forests account for more than 80 percent of timber harvested in Washington. $2.95 billion total products were shipped in 170,000 truckloads on Highways 12, 8, and 101 from the coast to the I-5 corridor in 2003. Thirty-six percent of that $1.06 billion were logs and finished wood, and paper products. $840 million, 28 percent, was machinery.