Port rail expansion to take big step

Contractor hired for Gateway Avenue overpass project

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

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The Port of Vancouver will launch a key piece of its planned expansion of rail tracks by the end of this year, as it aims to rid itself of a traffic chokepoint while advancing a larger transportation project that promises thousands of jobs.

The port has hired Apollo Inc., a Kennewick-based general contractor, to complete an $11.28 million project that will separate train and vehicle traffic at Gateway Avenue by building an overpass.

Six train tracks will run underneath the overpass, which will carry cars and trucks to port terminals. The idea is to simultaneously speed rail cargo while providing quicker, easier auto access to the port’s cargo operations at Terminal 4 and Terminal 5.

Theresa Wagner, the port’s communications chief, said the project is focused on boosting the efficiency of the port’s operations. “As we increase our rail capacity, we need to increase our ability to move traffic on our roads,” she said. “The overpass project will result in less congestion for both trains and trucks.”

Construction is set to begin in December. It’s expected to be completed by May 2013.

The Gateway Avenue overpass is part of the port’s larger $150 million West Vancouver Freight Access project, which it has been building piece by piece.

The port expects to create 1,000 permanent jobs in the next five to 10 years as it increases its rail capacity, helps existing companies expand their operations, and builds out Terminal 5 — where Australian mining giant BHP Billiton plans to construct a potash export facility.

Port officials forecast that the freight rail project, to be completed by 2017, will create about 4,000 construction jobs.

Curtis Shuck, the port’s director of economic development and facilities, said the port initially thought it would tackle the Gateway Avenue overpass much later in its schedule of freight rail projects.

However, the port, through a competitive process, won a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which moved the project to the front burner, Shuck said.

About $8.8 million of that grant will go toward the $11.28 million Gateway Avenue overpass project; the port will kick in the rest.

The remaining $1.2 million of federal grant money will be used to improve rail service to United Grain facilities.

During a public hearing on Nov. 22, the port’s three elected commissioners — Nancy Baker, Jerry Oliver and Brian Wolfe — voted unanimously to authorize the port’s executive director, Larry Paulson, to sign a contract with Apollo Inc. to build the Gateway Avenue project.

The vote came after the port examined construction bids from 17 companies. Port managers recommended commissioners approve a contract with Apollo Inc., the “lowest responsive and responsible bidder.”

Wolfe asked port managers whether they vetted Apollo to make sure it’s a responsible organization.

Shuck said the port did just that, checking the company’s background and its work for other customers, and found Apollo to have a strong record.

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ;http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com.