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Sen. Cantwell lauded by ports, businesses during Vancouver visit

Pacific Northwest Waterways Association says ‘freight senator’ key actor in funding

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., speaks with people in the crowd before receiving Pacific Northwest Waterways Association's 2022 Legislator of the Year Award at AC Hotel by Marriott Vancouver Waterfront on Thursday.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., speaks with people in the crowd before receiving Pacific Northwest Waterways Association's 2022 Legislator of the Year Award at AC Hotel by Marriott Vancouver Waterfront on Thursday. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Sen. Maria Cantwell doubled down on her role as the “freight senator” in an acceptance speech Thursday after being named the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association’s Legislator of the Year.

“I don’t care if I’m called ‘senator freight.’ I’ll take it,” Cantwell, D-Wash., said at the association’s annual conference in Vancouver. Pacific Northwest Waterways Association, a nonpartisan nonprofit composed of more than 150 ports, businesses and public agencies, advocates for federal funding and policies to aid regional economic development.

Glen Squires, the group’s president, presented the award to Cantwell and said the senator’s work has been integral in supporting a multitude of projects along the Washington Coast, Puget Sound and the Columbia River system. It’s the type of work that supposedly prompted former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood to apply the moniker “freight senator” to Cantwell.

But before handing her the trophy, Squires asked the crowd to sing to the senator, as it was her 64th birthday. Dan Worra, Port of Anacortes executive director, even brought balloons — although they were Paw Patrol themed.

The senator previously received the award in 2016 for her introduction of a $4.5 billion multimodal freight grant program crafted to reduce congestion at U.S. ports. Clearly, Cantwell didn’t stop there, Squires said.

She was among other lawmakers to secure $1.2 trillion in the Biden Infrastructure Law, passed last year, for improvements to the country’s ports, roads, bridges and railways.

From that funding, Cantwell was able to secure investments that directly impact Washington, including nearly tripling the Port Infrastructure Development Program’s annual budget. She also helped create a new $3 billion grant program to address at-grade railroad crossings, a problem Cantwell described that every city in the state experiences.

The port program, which provided $2.25 billion over five years, is a crucial resource for Washington to tap into as it continues to grow. The state’s freight exports are expected to increase by 47 percent over the next decade, or $654 billion, she said.

“As I like to try to remind our colleagues all the time, we’re one of the most trade-dependent states in the United States,” Cantwell said. “If we want to continue to have trade opportunities, we have to move more product and we have to set goals.”

She also noted that a $1 million seismic study grant was awarded to the Interstate 5 Bridge Replacement Program, which is the first chunk of federal funding to be directed toward the massive infrastructure project.

“It’s one of the worst bottlenecks that we have in the area: 7 to 10 hours a day you could have backups,” Cantwell said. “And it’s costing us a lot of money.”

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