BC and Washington State Improve Cross-Border Travel

Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Shirley Bond and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Secretary Paula Hammond today announced an extension of the second Amtrak Cascades train service between Vancouver and Seattle, as well as measures to reduce wait times at border crossings. The announcement concluded the first meeting of the British Columbia-Washington State joint Transportation Executive Council, which was held by video conference.

“Today’s meeting continues our constructive and collaborative approach to addressing our shared transportation challenges and opportunities,” said Bond. “By extending the second daily Amtrak train service, visitors will not only have another travel option during the upcoming summer tourist season, but it is also an essential first step in developing and advancing a shared, long-term vision of high-speed rail connecting Vancouver and Seattle. This will provide more information when considering the viability of making the second train permanent, as well as gauging demand for future high-speed rail.”

“The success of this additional Amtrak Cascades service reinforces what we already know – that intercity passenger rail service is a valuable transportation resource and people are using it,” said Paula Hammond, Washington transportation secretary. “As we continue to grow this service, it will provide more travel options for Pacific Northwest travellers, reduce congestion at our border crossings and help our environment.”

The second daily Amtrak Cascades train began service on Aug. 19, 2009 as a pilot project, running through the end of the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. The Canada Border Services Agency has since agreed to extend the provision of border clearance services for the second Amtrak train through the end of September 2010.

During the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, amtrak Cascades train service carried over 11,000 passengers. Popularity of the Amtrak Cascades and the international exposure received by the region during the Games has opened the door for new tourism opportunities, with significant new interest being expressed in two-nation tours. Amtrak Cascades is operated by Amtrak in partnership with the Washington and Oregon Departments of Transportation.

Investments to more efficiently move people and goods through the border crossings were also discussed. This includes $7 million in U.S. federal Coordinated Border Infrastructure funding for Washington State to upgrade the Advanced Traveller Information System (ATIS) for Interstate 5 between Bellingham and the border in Blaine. The ATIS provides real-time information on wait times at border crossings, allowing motorists the option to select an alternate crossing.These improvements will allow an expansion of WSDOT’s web-based traffic congestion maps and include many new cameras, an additional electronic message sign and expansion of highway advisory radio to communicate border wait times to travelers. Fibre optic cable will replace much slower and less reliable communication technology to ensure accurate and timely traveler information.

British Columbia will explore partnering opportunities to expand the ATIS in British Columbia to include the Aldergrove/Lynden (Hwy 13) and Huntingdon/Sumas (Hwy 11) border crossings. In B.C., the ATIS is currently in place at the Peace Arch (Hwy 99) and Pacific (Hwy 15) border crossings only. All four crossing in Washington State are served by ATIS.

The British Columbia-Washington State joint Transportation Executive Council is co-chaired by B.C.’s Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure and Washington State’s Department of Transportation Secretary. Its next meeting will take place in the fall 2010.

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