By Ian Ferguson
Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Rail Division and Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) has invited Blaine to appoint a representative to participate in discussions guiding new rail station stop policies.
The invitation to join the Amtrak Cascades Station Stop Advisory Committee was shared at the Blaine City Council’s regular meeting September 28. For a community that has long desired a passenger rail stop in Blaine, the invitation is a sign that ongoing lobbying efforts are being heard at the state level. Blaine hosted a regional rail workshop in 2013, and has since partnered with communities across the border in Canada to push for a rail stop in Blaine.
“We’ve been letting the state know that we want to be part of the discussion when it comes to adding new rail stops,” said Blaine Public Works director Ravyn Whitewolf after the meeting. “This advisory committee is the next step in the process.”
The stop advisory committee will include members from Washington and Oregon, and will be tasked with setting corridor-wide protocols for new rail station stops. The goal is to finalize a fair, transparent process for communities to follow if they want to get a rail stop. WSDOT completed a feasibility study using the city of Auburn as a case study in 2013, and an interim station stop policy was developed that year. The advisory committee is tasked with finalizing how to weigh the pros and cons of adding a station stop in a given community, and creating a formal, permanent process.
Seven other groups from Washington have been invited to the advisory group: Whatcom Council of Governments, the Washington legislature, city of Auburn, city of Tukwila, Sound Transit, Intercity Transit, Amtrak and BNSF. There are six invitees from Oregon.
The group will convene for three meetings in Vancouver, Washington: in October, in January 2016 and in April 2016.
Mayor Harry Robinson and city councilmember Bonnie Onyon both expressed interest in joining the committee.
“I believe this committee is key to us getting a rail stop, and it’s really important that someone from Blaine be at all these meetings,” Onyon said.
“All the lobbying is starting to pay off,” Robinson said.
Whitewolf commended Onyon and Robinson for agreeing to participate, and offered to participate as well if scheduling conflicts prevented a councilmember from attending a meeting.
Amtrak Cascades operates from Vancouver, British Columbia to Eugene, Oregon, with stops in 18 communities along the I-5 corridor. WSDOT is currently investing $800 million of federal rail funds in rail infrastructure improvements.
Public works is working with the state on a feasibility study for a rail stop in Blaine and will be coming forward with more information in the coming weeks, Whitewolf said.