Inslee signs $5.1B transportation bill, touts Cheney rail project

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee visited an old cow pasture near Four Lakes on Thursday to sign the state’s $5.1 billion transportation budget for the next two years.

The budget calls for spending $2.3 million to upgrade a section of aging rail between Cheney and Geiger Junction to serve a new $30 million grain loading facility under construction along Craig Road.

Inslee said the project is creating jobs and ensuring that grain shipments from the Upper Columbia Basin can continue to move by rail rather than on state highways.

Like other elements of the transportation budget, the grain facility is part of the state’s effort to build the economy, he said.

“It reminds me of how integral rail transit is,” Inslee told a gathering at the construction site.

HighLine Grain LLC, a consortium of five grain cooperatives across the Upper Columbia Basin, is building the facility to assemble 110-car trains for shipment on BNSF Railway main lines.

The cooperatives are making the investment to preserve their favorable bulk rates at a time when the BNSF line is increasingly relying on trains for grain, oil and coal.

Shipping by rail uses less energy and reduces wear and tear on state highways. In addition, it leaves highways less congested, Inslee said.

He said a single train ships the equivalent of 280 truck loads.

“They are green machines,” Inslee said of the grain trains.

In addition to the $2.3 million in track repair approved for the coming biennium, the budget calls for the state to spend a total of $7.4 million over the coming decade to bring the spur line up to Class 2 rail standards.

Elsewhere, the state budget provides $8.7 million for a West Plains Transit Center and $2.2 million for a Central City Line for public transit. Both of those projects were part of a failed ballot measure in April. Spokane Transit Authority is revising the plan and may send it back to voters for another try.

On the state highway side, the budget calls for spending $4.4 million to repave Division and Ruby streets from Interstate 90 to Euclid Avenue, among other regional highway maintenance projects.

During Thursday’s budget signing, Kevin Whitehall, the CEO of HighLine, gave Inslee a gift – a small section of original rail with a date stamp of 1889, the year the track was laid and Washington became a state.

In 2004, the state purchased 108 miles of historic rail serving Medical Lake, Reardan, Davenport, Creston, Wilbur, Almira, Hartline and Coulee City to preserve rail connections on the Palouse River & Coulee City Railroad. Companion lines run south of Cheney.

In January, a slow-moving freight train derailed at a curve just north of Cheney-Spokane Road in Cheney, sending cars off the rails and blocking the crossing.

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