Encouraging words arrived recently with the city of Vancouver's announcement that the West Eighth Street railroad crossing will be closed on Monday, Jan. 7.
In the interest of full disclosure, this closing will directly impact The Columbian in ways both good and not-so-good. The closing of the crossing adjacent to Columbian property will restrict access to the newspaper directly from the west on Eighth. But as a component in riverfront redevelopment, and with the city's long-range plan to eliminate train horns at the crossing, the closing becomes a net positive for us.
More important, though, will be the gain to the overall downtown community. Less noise from train horns is one of many huge benefits downtown residents and visitors can expect as the city, according to its website, goes about restoring "the historic direct connection of the community to the Columbia River waterfront."
One benefit is visual. A new railroad underpass at Esther Street allows a direct line of sight from the downtown area to the river for the first time in more than a century. That underpass beneath the BNSF Railway berm was punched through earlier this year, followed by another new underpass at Grant Street. Ultimately, the streets will be extended south into a waterfront project that is expected to trigger $1.34 billion in private investment.
Another benefit will be aural, and it could arrive as early as next summer. Although the Eighth Street crossing will close on Jan. 7, train horns there will continue because the Jefferson Street crossing just a few yards away will remain open. But as reported in a recent Columbian story, the Jefferson Street crossing is projected to close sometime between July and September, at which time the horn blasts no longer will be required.
We must confess, many Columbian employees (especially long-time workers here) seem to have almost gotten used to the intermittent train horns blaring a few yards away, outside a building wall or two. In fact, our closest room to that Eighth Street crossing is our largest conference room, and we've never let a little train noise interrupt a meeting.
Newspaper visitors, though, aren't so used to the train horns. Often they wince and glance at us as if to inquire, "Gosh, didn't you hear that?" So for their sake, if this project stays on schedule, we're feeling pretty confident about the quieter atmosphere that could arrive next year.
The coming year will bring key advancements in the $44 million Waterfront Access Project. City officials are coordinating the work with BNSF and lead contractor Nutter Corp. of Vancouver, focusing on road, rail and utility improvements and reconstruction of the railway berm. Already, work has been completed on bridges and retaining walls for the new alignment of the railway berm. An excellent online source of information can be found at www.cityofvancouver.us/streetprojects. click on "Waterfront Access Project."
The Columbian remains enthusiastic about waterfront redevelopment and downtown revitalization. The heart of the city soon will beat stronger than ever.