Railroad berm work restores view

Waterfront development opens passageway

By Andrea Damewood, Columbian staff writer

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It's a view that hasn't been seen in 104 years, but now it's also a look at Vancouver's future.

Construction crews have punched through the BNSF Railway berm due south of City Hall, offering a view from the end of Esther Street to the waterfront that's been hidden for more than a century.

Ultimately, both Esther and Grant streets will run under the tracks, and serve as the main links between Vancouver's downtown and the Columbia River waterfront.

"Anybody who works at City Hall or downtown can see a breath of fresh air here -- they can see some trees, see some water, see some blue sky," city spokeswoman Barbara Ayers said Wednesday. "When things are starting to open up, literally and figuratively, it's really exciting."

The work, headed up by Vancouver-based Nutter Construction, will continue on the BNSF tracks through the end of the year; 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.

BNSF trains are running on a temporary track while a new permanent berm with 13.5-feet-high bridges over Esther and Grant is completed. That temporary "shoofly" track will then be turned into a new lead track allowing access to the Port of Vancouver, Public Works spokeswoman Loretta Callahan said.

The work is all in hopes that Vancouver can land private developers ready to invest $1.3 billion for a Pearl District-esque transformation of the former Boise Cascade paper plant. A large waterfront park and extension of the Waterfront Renaissance Trail are also part of the plans.

Downtown residents and visitors should expect loud noises and vibrations from demolition and pile driving on weekdays now through July 16. The World War II murals further east along the berm will not be affected by the construction, Callahan said.

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.

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