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Consultant Hired to Study Hub Project

by Emily Proffitt
Journal of Business, August 14, 2008

Firm to conduct first phase of $1 million analysis; entity to be formed to oversee plan

Backers of the proposed Inland Pacific Hub project have hired a consultant to conduct the first phase of a roughly $1 million comprehensive study on the issue. They also are endeavoring to form an entity that would oversee the Hub project.

The goal of the Inland Pacific Hub is to position the region as a center, or gateway, for global commerce by improving its transportation system and integrating it strategically with regional, national, and international arteries of freight and commerce.

The project is a planned effort to optimize future transportation improvements to move shipments with maximum safety and efficiency and obtain the most economic-development benefit from the improvements. The comprehensive study will analyze the region's capacity to develop a global, multimodal transportation gateway, and how that gateway could affect the region's economy, says a project summary created by Hub supporters.

The executive committee in charge of spearheading the Hub effort recently awarded a roughly $500,000 contract to the Minneapolis office of Columbia, S.C.-based Wilbur Smith Associates to conduct the first part of the study, says Jeff Selle, government affairs director at the Spokane Regional Transportation Council. Selle, who has been working on the Hub project as part of his role at the SRTC, recently was hired as Hub project manager. He says he will continue to work full time at the SRTC, and will perform his duties as Hub project manager in addition to that work.

The first part of the comprehensive study will look at the feasibility of developing the Inland Northwest as a global trade gateway and the potential requirements for accomplishing that goal, Selle says. Wilbur Smith Associates is expected to take 18 months to complete that task, he says. Depending on the firm's findings, the Hub executive committee then would look at initiating the second part of the study, which would analyze how to implement the transportation initiatives necessary for creating a regional trade gateway, he says.

The HUB executive committee is paying for the first phase of the study with $250,000 the Washington Legislature appropriated for the project in 2007 and $250,000 in federal funds, Selle says. The Idaho Legislature has appropriated $250,000 for the project, which would be used to help fund the second phase of the study, Selle says. Congress also has set aside $250,000 for the Hub analysis in its fiscal year 2009 transportation, housing, and urban development appropriations bill, which would pay for the balance of the cost of the second phase, he says.

"Within the next couple of years, we'll have some sort of road map put in place," Selle says. "But it will take the next couple of decades, depending on political will, to get everything built out" because the projects will be expensive and will need to be considered priorities by lawmakers.

Meanwhile, the Hub executive committee and technical committee are working on creating an entity, possibly a nonprofit organization, that would oversee Hub efforts, he says. Currently they are working on creating bylaws for that entity.

The Hub executive committee oversees Hub planning and is comprised of members from a number of businesses and governmental bodies, including Avista Corp., Inland Empire Distribution Systems Inc., Spokane International Airport, and the Idaho Senate, he says. The technical committee advises the executive committee on technical matters related to the Hub initiative, and is made up of members from various transportation-related agencies in Washington and Idaho, he says.

Supporters of the Hub project point to rapidly increasing use of the region's transportation routes and a predicted rise in international trade as reasons behind a need for improving and integrating its transportation and technology systems to spur further economic development. They also assert that transportation systems and ports in coastal areas are reaching their capacity limits, causing shippers and freight forwarders to look to inland ports to handle their growth.

"We need to move on (the Hub project) soon because this freight issue we're facing in the U.S. is going to become a problem in the next decade or so," Selle asserts. "We need to invest in infrastructure."

Hub supporters say some of the assets that would make the Inland Northwest a strong candidate to flourish as a global trade gateway include Spokane International Airport and the high-speed fiber-optics networks that have been installed across the region. Vital road projects under way here include the North Spokane Corridor, the widening of Interstate 90, and the widening of U.S. 95 north to Canada from Lewiston, Idaho.

They also point to important planned rail projects such as the Geiger Spur realignment and transloader on the West Plains and the Bridging the Valley bistate project intended to eliminate about 75 at-grade railroad crossings in Eastern Washington and North Idaho. Additionally, dredging of the Columbia and Snake rivers is under way to improve access to the port of Lewiston.

Emily Proffitt
Consultant Hired to Study Hub Project
Journal of Business, August 14, 2008

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