More trade seen for Washington ports

More trade seen for Washington ports

Washington state's public ports can expect sustained growth thanks to increases in container traffic, but only if the surrounding highways, rail lines and waterways are upgraded, according to a new forecast.

But the study, released Wednesday, warned that the upbeat forecast did not account for infrastructure problems such as rail congestion in Vancouver, and freeway jams that delay trucks.

Annual growth, mostly on imports from China, is expected to run at 5 percent to 6 percent over the next five years.

The study said containers are still the fastest-growing trade component. Portland will continue to dominate the Columbia River container-export business, but that growth is said to depend on whether the Columbia River channel is deepened by dredging.

Imported autos will show slow, steady growth, about 0.7 percent annually in Vancouver.

Grain, especially Midwest varieties, will increase, but competition will grow as former customer nations such as India start to sell grain.

The forecast predicted that port cargo will mean 2.5 percent annual growth for the railroads, especially on lines serving lower Columbia River harbors. By comparison, truck growth is pegged at 0.8 percent annually.

But the study pointed out that important rail lines are nearing capacity. The Burlington Northern Santa Fe's east-west tunnel at Stevens Pass east of Everett will reach saturation by 2007 on peak days, while the Stampede Pass tunnel cannot handle containers stacked two high.

Both Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific need to build bypasses around crowded switching yards. One at the Port of Seattle's Duwamish Corridor will cost as much as $12 million but will save extensive maneuvering for trains to reach two cargo terminals.