A west Vancouver railroad crossing closed for good on Monday, marking another step in an ongoing transformation of the downtown area.
Monday's closure, announced last month, means vehicles can no longer cross the BNSF Railway tracks on West Eighth Street. A nearby crossing at Jefferson Street will close later this year, according to the city. Both moves are part of the $44 million Waterfront Access Project, a series of road, rail and utility improvements designed to remake the city's core. The effort will also rebuild the BNSF railroad berm in downtown, plus extend Esther and Grant streets under the railroad to connect with the Columbia River waterfront.
The city, working with BNSF on the project, has said closing crossings improves safety, eliminates the need for trains to slow down at those intersections, and reduces train noise when operators no longer have to blow their horns. In this case, vehicle traffic will eventually use new crossings that send them under the tracks instead.
City leaders hope the end result spurs new development at a former industrial site on the waterfront.
For now, the project remains a work in progress. A detour sends cars to Harney, Evergreen and Jefferson streets to get around the severed Eighth Street crossing. And many nearby businesses look forward to the final product.
"It's not like we like this," local business executive Tim Gardner said of the construction and closures. "But we also think it's important to look at the bigger picture."
Gardner is vice president of Bergstrom Nutrition, a nutritional supplement manufacturer based in Vancouver. Its main facility sits on Eighth Street just west of Jefferson, right next door to the railroad crossings slated for closure.
Gardner said it can be frustrating to operate right next to the railroad, often dealing with access issues as trains pass through or change crews nearby. Bergstrom regularly sends freight trucks in and out of its facility, he said.
Gardner credited the city for being "unbelievably good to work with" on the Waterfront Access Project, keeping neighbors in the loop on what's coming and listening to concerns. The city sent letters to affected businesses in advance of the most recent closure, said public works spokeswoman Loretta Callahan.
By the time the new waterfront access opens up at Sixth and Grant streets, freight and traffic will be able to pass under the railroad tracks unimpeded. That's expected to happen later this year. Until then, Bergstrom and other businesses wait.
"We knew it was coming," Gardner said.
Monday's railroad crossing closure at Eighth Street didn't eliminate train horns to that area -- not yet, anyway. The closure at Jefferson between Eighth and Ninth is expected to close between July and September, Callahan said, after the new waterfront connection is open. That will reduce noise in the immediate area, but horns still may carry over from other crossings in the city, she said.
The entire waterfront access project is slated for completion in 2014.