High speed rail and hub cities explored in Cascadia Corridor study

A new paper outlines a potential plan for the region.

A new report outlines a strategy for creating a Cascadia mega-region, complete with high-speed traffic and building up smaller cities to serve as outlying hubs for large urban areas.

The study was completed by the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, co-chaired by former Washington state Governor Chris Gregoire. The two key elements of the plan are building a high-speed rail line from Vancouver, B.C., through Seattle and Portland, and bolstering smaller cities to absorb an increasing population near this proposed rail.

The first element is a fairly straightforward idea: build a rail line capable of zipping people along the I-5 corridor. This, the report argues, could reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse emissions. The trains would ideally travel faster than 250 mph.

This element of the corridor has been discussed for years. A 2016 conference with representatives from Canada and Washington proposed the idea.

The second element proposed expanding cities that are located 40 to 100 miles from large urban cores. These cities would ideally be underdeveloped, with room to grow. The plan centered around high-speed transit, and it could ensure that residents can easily get to large cities for work.

But for the plan to work, each of these cities would need to be able to house at least 300,000 people. Housing would need to be dense and close to the station. And on top of this, each of these hub cities would need an industrial cluster with at least 200,000 jobs.

The report named Forest City in Malaysia as an example of a hub city. It consists of four islands, with a projected population of 700,000 by 2050. It’s 30 miles from Singapore, and the country plans on building a high-speed rail connecting the two cities. The city also has an industrial cluster with finance and biotech companies.

The Cascadia Innovation Corridor argues in the report that this could help ease the region’s growing pains. In the growing Cascadia mega-region, stretching from Vancouver to Portland, the average commuter spends more than 11 full days in traffic each year. At the same time, many working class families can’t live in the cities where they work.

And there’s more people on the way. It’s projected that up to four million new residents will call the region home by 2050.

“We need to move quickly to embrace big, bold ideas that will prepare our mega-region for the continued growth to come,” the report states.

A surge of capital and people moving to urban areas has created a lack of affordable housing in cities and suburbs. Transportation systems are overwhelmed and roads are congested, all generating greenhouse gas emissions.

More than half the residents in Cascadia are housing cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. A high-speed transit system could help address this, allowing people to move further from their jobs, while still having quick transportation and more affordable housing, according to the report. Creating more jobs in outlying hub cities could also reduce congestion and commute times.

To meet demand, the paper argues that within 15 years, suitable hub cities should be identified and construction should begin to upgrade them within 15 years. In another 10 years, the high-speed transit line should be fully operational.