Gregoire, kids, dignitaries celebrate new waterfront access

It's part of effort to transform downtown area

By Stevie Mathieu, Columbian Assistant Metro Editor



More information about the waterfront access project can be found on the City of Vancouver's website.

More information about the West Vancouver freight access project can be found on the Port of Vancouver's website.

More information about the waterfront access project can be found on the City of Vancouver’s website.

More information about the West Vancouver freight access project can be found on the Port of Vancouver’s website.

Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday helped the Vancouver community celebrate a critical breakthrough, literally, in the city’s waterfront access project: Constructions crews recently punched through the railroad berm that’s blocked access to the waterfront for more than a century.

In the coming years, the 35-acre waterfront area located just west of Interstate 5 will be transformed into a “world-class destination,” as Gregoire put it, boasting an 8-acre public park, new roads and railroad infrastructure, retailers, restaurants, office space and condos. The land was formerly an industrial site owned by Boise Cascade.

“I think this is one of the best celebrations that I could ever envision to close out my time as governor of this great state, and one of the biggest accomplishments for this entire region,” said Gregoire, who will not seek re-election in November.

Gregoire was joined on Thursday by a crowd of about 75 people, including a group of 40 children from the city’s day camp program. The other attendees included public officials who helped shepherd the project, state transportation officials, Port of Vancouver representatives, and private investors such as Columbia Waterfront LLC and BNSF Railway.

When it came time to reveal the opening in the berm, Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt took a page out of the television show “Extreme Home Makeover’s” playbook. But instead of shouting, “Bus driver, move that bus!” Leavitt said enthusiastically: “Move those trucks!”

The engines of two construction trucks rumbled as they backed away from each other, beeping, to expose the construction site in the background. The audience applauded and the children cheered, some waving their yellow plastic construction hats in the air.

The crowd then walked closer to get a better view. The Columbia River wasn’t visible, but through the opening in the berm, they could see a hilly landscape with trees.

The passageway will allow Esther Street to extend under the railroad toward the waterfront. Grant Street will also run under the tracks and help link Vancouver’s downtown to the Columbia River waterfront.

Although a passageway through the railroad berm has been created, the area remains closed to the public while construction continues.

The work, headed up by Vancouver-based Nutter Construction, will continue on the BNSF tracks through the end of the year; it’s the first stage of the city of Vancouver’s $44 million waterfront construction project. City crews will start work on road construction at the start of 2013, and expect to finish by the end of the year.

The parks component of the project will include new greenspaces and trails that connect downtown Vancouver with the Waterfront Renaissance Trail that runs east of the I-5 bridge. The parks project is being financed by $1 million set aside this year in the state’s capital budget.

Separate from the waterfront access project, the Port of Vancouver and the Washington State Department of Transportation are working on a West Vancouver Freight Access project, which is expected to reduce rail congestion by up to 40 percent, improving freight mobility and Amtrak passenger services.

Gregoire made mention of the city’s rail challenges and the high volume of trains traveling through the area on a daily basis.

“If there was ever a place to nickname Train City, well, this is it,” she said. “I came here today to tell you that’s a very good thing. The sound of those trains means jobs. It means international trade, which is our bread and butter for the future.”

Gregoire said Washington state has a $40 billion a year economy in commerce and 130,000 warehouse and distribution jobs that all depend on railroads.

The waterfront access project is expected to cost $44 million, attract $1.3 billion in investments, and create 14,000 permanent jobs and 12,000 temporary construction jobs, Gregoire said.

The governor also was presented with a couple gifts on Thursday: an aerial drawing of the future project autographed by local children, and a plate-sized emblem with the Washington state seal on it.

One of the children in attendance, 8-year-old Jordayn Murphy, said she planned to tell her parents about the project and ask if they can visit once the park is finished.

“It’s really exciting,” she said. “I’m really happy.”

Stevie Mathieu: 360-735-4523 or or or