New Report: Gateway Pacific Terminal Means Traffic In Seattle

Nov 6, 2012

Governmental agencies have begun the environmental review process for the largest proposed coal export terminal in the Northwest. It would be located near Bellingham, Washington. If it’s built the Gateway Pacific Terminal would draw trains from across the region, carrying coal from Wyoming and Montana to be exported to Asia.

And those trains would come through Seattle. That would lead to more traffic, according to a new report from the Seattle Department of Transportation. Ashley Ahearn reports for EarthFix.

The report says that if the Gateway Pacific Terminal goes in near Bellingham, Seattleites could spend up to 50 percent more time waiting as coal trains go by at various railroad crossings in the city.

Here’s Mayor Mike McGinn:

McGinn: “Railroad crossing gates will be down an additional 1-3 hours each day and create significant traffic impacts with regard to traffic going between the waterfront and the maritime and industrial businesses on the other side of the tracks.”

The report also said that coal train traffic would make it harder for the three major fire stations in downtown Seattle to get to the waterfront, causing delayed emergency response times.

The report authors did not contact Burlington Northern Santa Fe – the rail company that would be moving the coal – for input in this report. Nor did they assess the cost to improve safety or build overpasses necessary to ease the traffic congestion.

A report from supporters of the Gateway Pacific Terminal says it would generate close to $1.7 million in property revenue and $44 million in Washington State Sales and Use Tax revenues.

At full capacity though, the proposed terminal would mean 9 more trains a day, coming and going, across Washington and Oregon. That, says McGinn, poses problems for more than just Seattle.

McGinn: “Communities from one end of WA to the other are going to have to face these questions about these effects.”

A state-wide rail study from 2006 shows some sections of railways in Washington are already at or over capacity. There are now 5 ports in the Northwest considering coal export facilities.

If any are approved, coal trains could move from Wyoming and Montana through Spokane and then West along the Columbia River gorge toward the coast - traveling through towns in northern Idaho and Oregon as well.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio