EVERETT — In a few decades, high-speed rail could be making its way through Everett at 250 mph, linking major metropolitan areas along the upper West Coast, under a “visionary proposal” for funding signed by 10 U.S. legislators in August.
Since 2016, the Washington State Department of Transportation has been working on the project with governments in Oregon and British Columbia. Since it is only in the early planning phase, many details, like a timeline, price tag and specific stops, remain uncertain about what it could mean for commuters in Snohomish County and elsewhere.
The rail’s path would be located within the federally designated Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor, one of 11 regions in the country deemed fit for high-speed rail infrastructure. It would take passengers from Portland, through Seattle and up to Vancouver, British Columbia, with several stops in between, including potentially in Snohomish County.
Travel time for passengers bound from Portland or Vancouver to Seattle could be as short as one hour.
If there was a station in Everett, riders could get to downtown Seattle in just 15 minutes.
The ambitious project is dependent on the state securing more federal funding, said transportation department spokesperson Janet Matkin. In 2017, the estimated cost for the construction was $24 billion to $42 billion.
It’ll take at least a decade before construction can even begin, Matkin noted.
“There will likely be a stop or stops in Snohomish County, but exactly where is not yet known,” she said via email.
Other stops in the state could take passengers to Bellingham, Bellevue, Tacoma, Olympia and Longview.
State Sen. Marko Liias, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said I-5 and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport are “at capacity.”
In the next three decades, more than 3 million people are expected to move to the “Cascadia mega-region” encompassing Seattle, Portland and Vancouver, according to a June report from WSDOT to the state Legislature.
“At a very high level, our region is going to see a lot of growth in the next decades,” said Liias, a Democrat from Snohomish County. “We have to plan how we transport not just people but also freight and goods.”
Ultra-high-speed rail, though decades out, is a way to accommodate the needs of the state, he said.
As housing affordability continues to be a pressing issue in the region, an high-speed rail would allow people to live in more affordable areas, while also working anywhere they want, Liias said.
The vision for the rail would be an electrified system with zero emissions, Liias said.
In 2022, lawmakers approved the Move Ahead Washington package allocating $150 million for high-speed rail.
Earlier this month, U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen, who represent Snohomish County in Congress, were part of a delegation that penned a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg requesting more federal funding to advance the project.
“Projects like the Cascadia High-Speed Rail system are designed to serve future generations and that type of forward-thinking is what is needed to provide them with the infrastructure they need to succeed,” the letter states. “We believe this project deserves in-depth analysis and the funding needed to move this project forward.”
With Sound Transit’s Link light rail slated to reach Everett by 2041, many businesses and residents are preparing for potential displacement.
State transportation officials have been analyzing similar projects, to figure out how to minimize harm to communities, Liias said. In California, high-speed rail infrastructure is expected to open within the next decade.
“This is the beginning of the public conversation,” he said, “not the end.”