High-speed rail proponents make another push for Pacific Northwest project; poll shows voter support

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Three of every five voters in Oregon and Washington support a regional, high-speed rail line, according to a poll released by proponents of a proposed high-speed rail system to carry passengers from Eugene, Ore., to Vancouver, B.C.

The survey, conducted by California-based FM3 and released by rail-advocacy coalition Fast Forward Cascadia, shows that 43% of voters surveyed from the two states strongly support high-speed rail and another 19% somewhat support it. Conversely, a total of 27% either strongly oppose or somewhat oppose a new high-speed rail project.

Rachel Smith, the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, said the polling indicates the necessary political support for additional modes of mass transportation in the Pacific Northwest.

The broad proposal to bring high-speed rail to the Pacific corridor has gained broad support in high places. Gov. Jay Inslee has backed the idea, as have the Port of Seattle and a handful of mayors along the proposed route including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan. Brad Smith, president of Microsoft; Zillow CEO Rich Barton; Stan Deal, president and CEO of Boeing Commercial Airplanes; and other tech leaders also have backed the concept.

In 2019, Microsoft gave $223,667 to study the possibility of building a high-speed rail line connecting Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, and Portland, bringing the company’s total donation to study the feasibility of the idea to $573,667. If completed, trains would hit speeds of 250 mph and carry up to 3.3 million passengers annually in the Pacific Northwest, according to one initial study.

A study completed in 2018 estimated the project cost would range from $24 billion to $42 billion.

Rachel Smith said with the federal government currently willing to pour billions of dollars into Washington’s infrastructure with the new legislation approved by the U.S. Senate, the time to push a project along is now. “There are significant resources becoming available,” she said. “The (decisions) we make now we wish we could have made 20 years ago.”

The poll took place from July 22 through Aug. 3, 2021. FM3 interviewed 1,616 likely voters evenly split between Oregon and Washington, according to its polling data.

Broady, Northwest voters appear highly concerned about traffic, transportation infrastructure, and climate. And they see high-speed rail as a partial solution to those issues, the data indicates.

But any high-speed rail project has considerable hurdles to climb in the U.S., which lacks any high-speed lines similar to the European, Japanese, and Chinese models. Proposals in California and Texas have met with significant political opposition after polling well initially. California’s proposed run from the Bay Area to the Los Angeles basin is hundreds of millions of dollars over budget.

Smith said the backers of the Cascadia line have closely analyzed mistakes made by the other projects and have a good accounting of the potential pitfalls. “We have confidence we can deliver on this project,” she said.

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