Wednesday, October 16, was a momentous day for WCIT and the nation – WCIT co-hosted its first Eastern Washington event, and Congress voted to reopen the government. To be clear, the Eastern Washington event is the thing that was momentous to WCIT…although we’re certainly happy that federal employees got to go back to work too (especially the ones who are busy negotiating new trade agreements!).
Despite WCIT’s statewide role and its membership from across Washington, we had never actually co-hosted an event east of the Cascades. So we were very excited to join Greater Spokane Incorporated, Move Forward Washington and the Coeur d’Alene Chamber of Commerce to present “Trade on the Move,” a discussion on freight mobility issues in Eastern Washington.
130 business and community leaders from the Inland Northwest showed up at 7 am (!!) on a cold fall morning to discuss freight mobility policy, which is a testament to how important trade is to the Spokane region. Many of the major industries in Eastern Washington – agriculture, manufacturing, forestry and mining – depend on efficient and reliable freight mobility infrastructure to reach markets across the U.S. and the world. For those of you who couldn’t make the breakfast – which featured a panel discussion with rail, trucking and logistics industry leaders, a keynote address by Rosalyn Wilson (author of the annual State of Logistics Report) and a special (video) message from Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers – here are some major themes that emerged as part of the discussions:
1. Eastern Washington is an ideal location for an “inland Pacific hub” of trade
As Terry Finn of BNSF Railway and Representative Cathy McMorris Rodgers pointed out, Eastern Washington is a multi-modal gateway to communities across the nation and the globe. East-West traffic converges here to and from Western Washington’s seaports and the rest of the nation. However, lack of investment in freight mobility infrastructure has prevented the region from reaching its full potential as a commerce hub. With no north-south interstate, there is no full road access to Canada and population centers to the south, and freight is forced onto congested roadways through neighborhoods. High transportation costs and slower transport times reduce incentives for employers to locate in the region. Yet, with the right public and private investments in rail, the north-south corridor, roads and bridges, and inland port infrastructure, the region could easily become an inland Pacific hub of domestic and international trade.
2. It’s more expensive to NOT invest in transportation infrastructure
Mark Barnes of Fast Way Freight Systems made the point that it is costing the region more to not invest in freight mobility than it would cost to make the right investments. Freight mobility investment has a high ROI because it attracts companies to the Inland Northwest, and local businesses can be more productive and efficient. For example, the recent Inland Pacific Hub study put together by the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization, Washington State Department of Transportation and Idaho Transportation Department estimates that completion of major freight mobility projects in the region would result in an addition of 46,000 jobs and $3.4 billion in value-added to the community.
3. We really need a national freight plan
All of the panelists as well as the panel moderator Karen Schmidt (who is Executive Director of the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board and serves on the National Freight Advisory Committee) agreed that the lack of a national freight plan is a major hindrance to developing transportation infrastructure. A national plan could help coordinate efforts to improve our nation’s and state’s international competitiveness in freight mobility.
Overall, the panelists were cautiously optimistic about the future of transportation & logistics in the Inland Northwest, and believe the region has incredible potential with the right investments.
WCIT and GSI will likely to do a follow up freight mobility event in the spring that delves into solutions to freight mobility problems in Eastern Washington, so stay tuned for more information about that in the coming months.
And in the meantime, WCIT will continue advocating for freight mobility policies and investments that will improve the competitiveness of Washington state… including hopefully supporting a statewide transportation revenue package this fall during a special session of the Washington State Legislature!