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Washington Governor Touts Vancouver-Portland High-Speed Rail

Inslee visits legislature, talks rail, climate change and marijuana.

Andrew MacLeod 21 Nov

Andrew MacLeod is The Tyee's Legislative Bureau Chief in Victoria. Find him on Twitter or reach him here.

During a visit to the British Columbia legislature, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee promoted the possibility of a high-speed rail line between Portland and Vancouver.

“We have a lot of excitement in Washington State about this,” Inslee told reporters Tuesday. “I’m bullish about this corridor between British Columbia and the State of Washington. I believe that we should have nothing but optimism about our growth potential.”

Inslee said he expects to receive a $1-million (US) feasibility study he ordered earlier this year within a few weeks. The line would stretch 400 kilometres and include stops in Seattle and Bellingham.

“The first question is ‘is there a demand for this kind of service,’ and I think what this study is going to show is very much there is a great demand for it, which frankly is not too surprising,” said Inslee, a Democrat elected governor in 2013 after more than two decades in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The governor said that many people envy high-speed rail lines in Asia and Europe. He described riding one in Japan recently. “It’s like the magic carpet,” he said. “You hardly even feel acceleration. It’s an incredible experience.”

Inslee said he has been advised that if the line is built, revenues would cover operating costs.

The question of how to pay for construction hasn’t been answered, he said, adding he would welcome money for it from the United States government.

“I’m sure [the study] will spawn 10 questions that we’ll need to get the answers to,” Inslee said. “One of which is the degree of interest on this on both sides of the border. There has to be mutual interest on both sides of the border.”

He also noted that political representatives in both countries would need to support the high-speed service. “It’s not just going to be two gentlemen working on this.”

Standing beside Inslee at a news conference, B.C. Premier John Horgan sounded less enthusiastic. “We’ll have more questions than answers in early December,” he said.

Horgan cited delays at the border as a possible issue. “If we’re going to have high-speed rail, we’re going to need to have border checks, customs activity, done along the way,” he said. “If we stop for an extended period of time at the border, we’re defeating the purpose.”

At the very least having the discussion will strengthen the relationship between B.C. and Washington, Horgan added.

Horgan noted that Inslee’s official visit to the legislature was the first by a Washington State governor since 1984.

In Inslee’s speech in the legislature he assured MLAs that Washington will stick to its principles, regardless of the tone set in the U.S. capitol.

“I want to assure this assembly that no matter who is in the White House, it won't affect Washington state’s relationship with Canada or British Columbia,” he said.

“It cannot stop us from moving forward on climate change. It cannot stop us from establishing global and subnational coalitions. It cannot stop individual states from capping carbon. It cannot stop our businesses from inventing new and creative solutions.”

Inslee also told reporters that Washington’s experience with the decriminalization of marijuana provides an example for Canada, which is moving in the same direction.

“The fears that many had about rampant youthful use of marijuana if it was decriminalized have not been realized in the State of Washington. That’s the most comforting news,” he said.

Decriminalizing has allowed the state to have a well regulated distribution system, provide education on the drug to young people, reduce the strain on the criminal justice system and make sure the product is safe, he said. “We’ve largely succeeded, I think, at those endeavours.”

Inslee talked about more possibilities for cooperation between B.C. and Washington. “I’m very eager to pursue the additional things we can work on together, from transportation to climate change, you name it.”  [Tyee]

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