Heavy Haul Corridor bill passes second hurdle, heads to governor to sign

OLYMPIA – The state legislature has passed a bill sponsored by Seventh District Senator Bob Morton (R-Kettle Falls) which he feels will benefit his district’s local economy and reduce the number of trucks on Highway 97.

The measure, Substitute Senate Bill 6857, directs the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to designate a seven-mile stretch of State Highway 97 from the Canadian border to Oroville as a heavy haul industrial corridor., SSB 6857 was unanimously approved by both the House and Senate.

Currently, Canadian trucks must off-load on the Canadian side of the border to redistribute the weight to other trucks and then off-load again at Oroville at the rail head. Sen. Morton’s measure would allow trucks to use the corridor with WSDOT special permits for gross truck weights up to 137,000 pounds — about one third more than they can currently haul.

“I am very pleased to see this measure heading to the governor’s desk,” Morton said. “It is an all around winning situation for reducing truck traffic, utilizing our railroad, and helping our local economy.”

The border crossing north of Oroville is the only one in Eastern Washington open 24 hours a day. It is a gateway for the hauling of fruit and lumber. At Oroville, truck loads are put on the Cascade & Columbia River Railroad to go to the Wenatchee area for shipment across the nation. In some cases items coming into Oroville by rail are loaded on to trucks and hauled north into Canada, said Mark Bordwell, general manager of Oroville Reman and Reload, who has indicated his wholehearted support for the bill.

The bill now goes to Gov. Christine Gregoire for signing. She has either five or 20 days to sign, depending on how soon it gets to the governor’s desk, according to Chris Branch, Oroville City Planner.

“I can’t see any reason why the governor would veto the bill,” said Branch.

Branch says the opportunities and options the Heavy Haul designation gives the area is what has him most excited. However, what’s most positive is the help it will give in maintaining the “long term viability of the short-line railway,” he said.

“When I was testifying for the bill I kept drumming into the legislators the need to maintain the long term viability of our short-line rail lines and the need for multi-module freight transportation. In Oroville’s case if we lose the railway we lose 50 jobs immediately,” said Branch.

In addition to Oroville Reman and Reload, the Cascade and Columbia Railroad also serves Zosel’s Lumber Company in Oroville and the Weyerhauser Chip Mill south of town. Branch believes the new designation will bring increased business for those Oroville companies that currently use the rail head, as well as the potential to attract new Canadian businesses seeking access to U.S. markets and the less expensive transportation option shipping by rail offers over trucking as the price of diesel fuel continues to rise.