Transportation roadblock needs to be cleared for Cascadia Innovation Corridor


Crossing the border between the United States and Canada will need to be streamlined for a regional tech hub stretching from Oregon to British Columbia to really take hold, proponents of the Cascadia Innovation Corridor said at a Vancouver tech summit.

Rachel Lerman

The developing technology connections between the Pacific Northwest and Vancouver, B.C., may hinge as much on infrastructure improvements as partnerships between companies and governments, business and government leaders from the two regions suggested at a tech conference Wednesday.

Crossing the border between the United States and Canada will need to be streamlined, they said,  for a regional tech hub stretching from Oregon to British Columbia to really take hold. The effort to create such a hub, dubbed the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, was in the spotlight this week at the three-day #BCTech Summit in Vancouver, sponsored by the province’s government and the BC Innovation Council.

The push for a regional tech center started a few years ago, and has been driven forward, in part, by Redmond tech giant Microsoft, which has a 650-person office in Vancouver.

The effort has attracted support from Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, B.C. Premier John Horgan and a growing list of companies headquartered throughout the two states and province. But if a tech hub is really to take hold, transportation will need to be improved, pretty much everyone involved admits. Traffic can snarl I-5, border delays can deter trips, and some argue taking the train or flying can be costly and a drawn-out process.

“From an infrastructure perspective, what do we need next?” asked Alan Winter, B.C.’s innovation commissioner, on a panel at the summit Wednesday. “Is it a super-Nexus card? What would make it easier?”

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Seaplane service began this spring, directly connecting Lake Union in Seattle to Vancouver’s harbor. It was  a much buzzed about topic at the summit, where participants acknowledged it is a good step forward. But the seaplanes transport a limited number of people and the price tag is hefty – about $285 one-way – so Corridor proponents know there will have to be more options.

Microsoft announced this week it would invest an additional $300,000 to study the possibility of  high-speed rail service connecting Seattle and Vancouver, adding to a $750,000 investment from the state legislature and C$300,000 ($235,000) investment from the B.C. government.

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Transportation isn’t just an issue for the Corridor, said former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire who is now CEO of Challenge Seattle, a private-sector alliance of executives from local companies and nonprofits seeking to shape the region’s future.

Gregoire said the region’s cities also have to look at their own transportation problems, as well as issues such as income inequality that stem from the region’s economic boom and can be solved by using the resources that come with it.

She pointed to Seattle’s struggles with affordable housing, a topic that has been pushed into the spotlight this month with the debate over a so-called “head tax” on businesses. “The displacement that is going on in Seattle is pretty dramatic right now,” she said on a summit panel Wednesday. “And we don’t have a choice but to solve it.”

 



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