Railway clearing route to water

Work begins to open downtown to river

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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Information and updates about the city of Vancouver waterfront access project are available at http://cityofvancouver.us/waterfrontaccess.

photoThe 32-acre former Boise Cascade waterfront area is seen from the air in 2011.

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photoBNSF contractors work on the track at the south end of Esther Street on Friday May 4, 2012. The project has closed Arnold Way, formerly West Fourth Street, between Columbia and Esther streets until the end of 2013 when the City's Roadway Phase is scheduled for completion.

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The newly named Phil Arnold Way in downtown Vancouver had just two months to proudly host vehicle traffic before having “road closed” signs placed at both ends last week.

The road, formerly West Fourth Street, is closed from Columbia to Esther streets until the end of 2013, when the city of Vancouver’s $44 million waterfront access project is set to be completed.

BNSF Railway started rebuilding its permanent line from Columbia to Jefferson streets last week so city contractors can build new roads to the Columbia River waterfront next year.

The work will reconnect downtown Vancouver to the former Boise Cascade industrial site -- one that’s been targeted for billions in redevelopment with apartments, shopping, office buildings and a park.

“It’s hearkening back to the original vision of getting people back to the water,” said Alisa Pyszka, Vancouver economic development division manager. “No other site has this amazing access.”

BNSF crews already built a temporary side track, onto which all train traffic is being routed, and now will tear down the old berm and replace it.

Construction will include two new rail bridges to replace those built in 1908 over Esther and Grant streets, which will allow better vehicle access and a clearance of 13.5 feet, Vancouver Construction and Engineering Services Manager Dan Swensen said.

While the results will be positive, a negative side effect for those near the construction zone will be the ruckus of the pile-driving to install the new bridge supports.

Demolition and pile-driving are expected to take from May 14 to July 16, BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said Friday. While the city will allow Vancouver-based Nutter Construction to conduct the noisy work from to 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, Melonas said the company will try and knock off by 5 p.m. in consideration for neighbors. If possible, loud work will also be stalled during major events at Esther Short Park, he said.

“We want to be a good neighbor in this,” Melonas said.

Vancouver will pay the railroad for the demolition and reconstruction, which are included in the $44 million project’s budget. Melonas said his company does not yet have a cost estimate for the railway work.

Next steps

After the railway work is done, the city will put out a contract for the roadwork -- rebuilding parts of Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Jefferson, Esther and Grant streets -- at the end of this year, Swensen said.

Due to several delays, city leaders re-inked a development agreement last year with Columbia Waterfront LLC -- a group composed of Gramor Development of Tualatin, Ore., and its local investors -- to extend the deadline for construction from mid-2012 to Dec. 31, 2013.

Once the roads are done, the vehicle crossings over BNSF tracks will be closed at Eighth and Jefferson streets, meaning that trains will no longer have to sound their horns there, Swensen said.

Work on the eight-acre Waterfront Community Park may also begin as soon as early 2013, following permitting from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Pyszka said. Last month, state lawmakers cleared the path for construction by setting aside $1 million in the state’s new capital budget.

The park will connect visitors to the city’s downtown area and to the Waterfront Renaissance Trail that runs east of the Interstate 5 Bridge. The park will be built on the southern portion of the 32-acre former industrial site, and city officials hope it will attract major private investment to the waterfront.

Andrea Damewood: 360-735-4542; http://twitter.com/col_cityhall; andrea.damewood@columbian.com.