In 2016, Governor Jay Inslee directed the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to consider an ultra-high-speed ground transportation system (UHSGT) to connect the Cascadia region’s primary metro areas, including Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. He hoped to stimulate the region’s economy and improve accessibility by connecting these significant employment and commerce hubs.
Between 2018 and 2020, WSDOT completed three studies to understand the feasibility, potential challenges, benefits, and impacts of the Cascadia UHSGT. An ultra-high-speed ground transportation system like the one described here is a significant undertaking, requiring a high degree of intergovernmental cooperation and planning. Similar successful projects have required a decade or more of planning before reaching the procurement phase, and even longer to reach delivery. Before advancing the project, the Washington State Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee (JTC) made the prudent decision to commission an independent review of the project’s assumptions to inform future funding decisions.
The JTC selected RSG, working with STV, to conduct an independent, unbiased review of previous studies by assessing their adequacy, identifying additional considerations for future UHSGT development, and extracting relevant lessons from other high-speed transportation systems to guide the project’s next steps. The goal of this review was to help advance the Cascadia UHSGT project from concept to reality by providing a strong foundation for additional detailed analysis and forecasting.
RSG used our extensive ridership forecasting, data, and modeling expertise to thoroughly review the previous project work and evaluate the forecasts. Our team divided our independent review and results into three phases:
RSG and STV’s analysis demonstrated the importance of understanding trade-offs between cost, speed, ridership, and level of service. It clarified how survey processes and underlying forecasting assumptions can significantly impact results, emphasizing the importance of rigorous checks and balances, particularly for investment-grade studies. This is crucial information to inform a major investment decision. RSG and STV’s review also spotlighted the complexities and timelines involved in procuring and governing a binational, cross-border system. It underscored the reality that while the methods and tools used in prior studies complied with industry standards, they lacked the robustness needed for investment-grade analyses for advanced project development.