Newhouse Outlines Issues with WA DOT Head Congressional Testimony

This week, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and his colleagues from the Pacific Northwest sent a letter to the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation, Roger Millar, after the secretary made far-fetched claims during his testimony at the House Transportation & Infrastructure hearing, “The State of Transportation,” and his answers relating to the Lower Snake River Dams.

The lawmakers wrote, “The Columbia/Snake River System Operations (CRSO) is the federal system of locks and dams which serves as an important trade route for the Pacific Northwest economy. Barges and ships transport thousands of containers along its 2,321 miles of waterways annually,”

The letter continues, “During the Jan. 17 hearing, Congresswoman Chavez-DeRemer (OR-05) described the insurmountable burden this would place on the rail and trucking industries, indicating it would take 39,204 rail cars and 150,784 semi-trucks per year to move the cargo that is currently barged through the Columbia/Snake Rivers. Congresswoman Chavez-DeRemer asked you specifically if you believed that Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) would still be able to meet its objectives after adding this substantial amount of rail cars and trucks to railroads and highways, to which you replied in the affirmative.

“According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics May 2022 report, there were 37,250 heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in Washington, 22,690 in Oregon, and 14,030 in Idaho. That total would have to be tripled to meet the projected number of trucks needed consistently on the road to make up for lost barge transport.

The letter concludes, “We find it incredibly hard to believe WSDOT will continue to meet these broad objectives after breaching the dams, as capacity on highways and railroads will meet an all-time high.”

The letter poses the following questions to the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation:

1. Please expand on the stated objectives of WSDOT as a transportation agency; 

2. Please specifically detail how WSDOT will continue to meet these transportation objectives if the Lower Snake River Dams are breached, especially as it relates to impacts from increased traffic on highway and rail transportation networks; and 

3. How will WSDOT maintain its objectives and provide viable alternatives to continue to help robustly grow the Pacific Northwest economy? 

4. If these objectives are maintained, why does WSDOT believe they still need additional DOT grants with respect to the Columbia Basin Restoration Initiative? 

The full letter can be found here.