Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation study

Study overview

WSDOT is studying how ultra-high-speed ground transportation (UHSGT) might serve as a catalyst to transform the Pacific Northwest. A stronger, better connected economic megaregion — stretching from greater Vancouver, British Columbia to metro Seattle, Washington to Portland, Oregon — has the potential to thrive in the global marketplace. A key component of that vision is a fast, frequent, reliable, and environmentally responsible transportation system that unites this Cascadia megaregion, and positions it for global competitiveness and future prosperity.

The 2019 Business Case Analysis builds on previous UHSGT studies conducted by WSDOT. It provides a more comprehensive and detailed picture of the wide range of benefits that would flow to the region due to UHSGT.

2019 UHSGT Business Case Analysis

Why is WSDOT studying ultra-high-speed ground transportation?

The Washington State Governor’s Office and state Legislature asked WSDOT to study ultra-high-speed ground transportation from Vancouver, British Columbia to Portland, Oregon. Regional business and government leaders believe enhanced interconnectivity would allow Cascadia to better manage the megaregion’s population and economic growth potential and maximize public transportation benefits. Such a system is envisioned to be about much more than transportation. It also could result in better access to jobs, affordable housing, shared resources, increased collaboration, and economic prosperity.

What is a megaregion?

Megaregions are networks of metropolitan regions with shared economies, infrastructure and natural ecosystems. There are 11 emerging megaregions in the U.S. The rapidly growing economy and population characterizes the Cascadia megaregion, which encompasses Vancouver, BC; Seattle, Washington; and Portland, Oregon.

Where high-speed ground transportation works best

In general, the evaluation criteria for where high-speed ground transportation can be considered feasible are:

  • The area being considered should be a megaregion with stops in cities or metro areas with larger populations (Vancouver - Seattle - Portland)
  • The travel distance should be between 100-500 miles (Vancouver to Portland is around 350 miles)
  • The system should be interconnected with regional and local transit
  • The metropolitan should have economic productivity, and
  • The system should be used to relieve congested areas (both auto and air)

Ultra-High-Speed Ground Travel (UHSGT) won’t stop everywhere in this corridor. The current analysis is evaluating route and station options. UHSGT will benefit the entire Cascadia Megaregion, not just people at station stops. It could alleviate traffic and transit congestion while encouraging greater regional collaboration in research, economic development, and business innovation.

Not a replacement for Amtrak Cascades service

Ultra-high-speed ground transportation is not intended to replace the Amtrak Cascades intercity passenger rail system managed and funded by WSDOT and ODOT; it would be an additional travel option and would serve to supplement ridership. Amtrak Cascades trains might connect smaller cities to the ultra-high-speed system and they might even share the same tracks. Because Amtrak Cascades trains currently share tracks with freight trains, it is likely not possible to offer ultra-high-speed service on most of the current Amtrak Cascades routes. Amtrak Cascades trains travel at 79 mph and serve 18 cities in Canada, Washington and Oregon - more than an ultra-high-speed option would serve.


Timeline

2016 - During a 2016 conference on the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, Governor Jay Inslee and British Columbia Premier Christy Clark signed an agreement saying they wanted to work together to create a new technology corridor that would include a high-speed transportation system. With support from the governor, the state Legislature then asked WSDOT to analyze the feasibility of such a system to help lawmakers decide if it makes sense and identify next steps they could take to move it forward.

2017 - The 2017 Ultra-High-Speed Ground Transportation Feasibility study (pdf 4 mb) was submitted to the state Legislature on Dec. 14, 2017; Highlights from the December 2017 report (pdf 665 kb) was presented to the Joint Transportation Committee at that time.

2018 - An economic impacts addendum was added to the final report document on Feb. 1, 2018.

Following release of the 2017-2018 study, the Washington State Legislature determined that a more in-depth analysis was warranted and approved funding for WSDOT to conduct a business case study that was completed in June 2019. British Columbia, Oregon, and Microsoft also contributed funding to undertake that next phase of analysis.

2019 - The business case study analysis was submitted to the Washington State Legislature in July 2019. It further confirms that an ultra-high-speed transportation system could be viable in the Pacific Northwest. The 2019 report focuses on: 

  • Corridor options, including possible station areas, connections to other travel modes (such as transit), and costs
  • Potential ridership and revenue based on some express service trips stopping at only a few locations, interspersed with other trips that stop at more locations
  • Governing structures to administer such a project across state and international borders
  • Funding and finance alternatives
  • Key benefits related to better travel connections, economic development, housing, environment, and safety


Funding

2018-2019 budget

The study was paid for with $750,000 from the Washington state Legislature and an additional $650,000 from the Province of British Columbia, the Oregon Department of Transportation and Microsoft Corp. The study assumes public agencies and the private sector could share future planning, construction and operation costs. A public-private advisory group representing both public and private sectors from Washington, Oregon and British Columbia, provided input during the year-long analysis.

2017 budget

The 2017 feasibility study was paid for with $300,000 from the state legislature. The business community also contributed funds to conduct a more in-depth economic impact study.


Contact

Jason Beloso
BelosoJ@wsdot.wa.gov
Strategic Planning Manager
WSDOT Rail, Freight, and Ports Division

Janet Matkin
MatkinJ@wsdot.wa.gov
Communications Manager
WSDOT Rail, Freight, and Ports Division

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