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Thursday, December 7, 2023
Dec. 7, 2023

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Ridgefield railroad overpass project out to bid after several delays

Crossing over BNSF tracks a big step in port’s plans for waterfront development

By , Columbian Staff Writer
3 Photos
A car waits for a freight train to pass on Mill Street near McCuddy&#039;s Ridgefield Marina on Wednesday.
A car waits for a freight train to pass on Mill Street near McCuddy's Ridgefield Marina on Wednesday. (Photos by Nathan Howard/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — The Ridgefield overpass project is finally out to bid.

The roughly $15 million Pioneer Street Railroad Overpass Project received its last bit of funding — a $900,000 Railroad Safety Grant, in February 2016 — but endured repeated delays. The hope was construction would start sometime in 2017, with an 18-month construction window.

It took port officials longer than expected to secure federal air rights for the project, since the overpass will pass over BNSF Railway tracks. Then the port had to reopen its environmental impact study, thanks to a herd of once-endangered Columbian white-tailed deer.

About 35 deer were relocated to the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge starting in 2013 from the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer near Cathlamet. Since the deer, which were endangered at the time of relocation, weren’t in the city when the study was conducted in 2008, the report had to be updated.

While the delays were frustrating, Port of Ridgefield CEO Brent Grening said they were understandable, considering that the project is being worked on by the port, the city, BNSF, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration.

“It takes a discipline. It takes a patience,” Grening said. “It takes an understanding of all these things, but we’re here. It’s environmentally sound. It is engineered correctly. It is worth doing, and the money is going to be spent on a good project.”

Bids will be collected for four weeks, and then it will take port officials a few more weeks to sort through the bids and award the project. Once that is done, the contractor will have some flexibility on when construction starts to make it the most efficient use of time, Grening said, adding he expects construction to still take somewhere in that 18-month range.

Once the overpass is built, visitors won’t have to cross train tracks to get to the waterfront; they’ll drive over them. It will also connect the heart of downtown Ridgefield to the waterfront.

With the overpass, the port will close a crossing on Mill Street and gate off the crossing on Division Street. That crossing will be left for emergency use in case there’s a blockage or issue on the overpass, and emergency responders need to get into or out of the waterfront area, Grening said.

The overpass project is a big step for the port as port leaders work toward waterfront redevelopment. The area was formerly home to Pacific Wood Treating, a company that pressure-treated telephone poles and railroad ties with chemical agents. The plant closed in 1993, leaving the soil tainted by chemicals. The port spent nearly $73 million to clean up the site. Earlier this year, City Manager Steve Stuart estimated the site could bring in an estimated $200 million to $300 million in private investment money.

“(The overpass) clears the path for redevelopment, because all of a sudden, downtown Ridgefield and the waterfront are directly connected,” Grening said. “One of the tougher pieces of development down here is the Mill Street Crossing, because trains sometimes block the crossings and cause delays. They can range from a few minutes to a few hours. From a business point of view, it’s not convenient to be stuck someplace. This deals with one of the major issues.”

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Columbian Staff Writer