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News / Business / Clark County Business

Ridgefield rail overpass on track

Project should be completed by end of 2021; it will improve access to waterfront

By Jack Heffernan, Columbian county government and small cities reporter
Published: December 10, 2020, 6:01am
3 Photos
Construction work on a new railroad overpass continues in Ridgefield west of the intersection of Pioneer Street and Main Avenue on Monday morning.
Construction work on a new railroad overpass continues in Ridgefield west of the intersection of Pioneer Street and Main Avenue on Monday morning. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The Ridgefield overpass project should be completed by the end of next year, roughly two decades after its conception.

The Pioneer Street Railroad Overpass Project, west of the intersection of Pioneer Street and Main Avenue, is on track for completion by late 2021, according to the Port of Ridgefield. The $11.3 million project is in its final phase, which began in March and includes installation of a new bridge and aerial span connecting the north and south approach roads constructed in previous phases.

The overpass will tower above BNSF Railway tracks that visitors on Mill or Division streets currently have to cross to access the waterfront. Trains that use the railroad can sometimes spend hours passing through.

It will also offer a safer connection for drivers and pedestrians between downtown and the waterfront, including 41 acres of planned future development.

Brent Grening, the port’s executive director, has been in his position since 1998, when the idea for the project began floating around.

“It’s exciting to see it coming out of the ground and really taking shape, becoming something physical,” Grening said. “It’s coming into focus, and it’s a big deal.”

Partners with the port on the project include the city, BNSF, the Washington State Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Railroad Administration.

The first two phases of the projects were completed by 2014. But the port ran into complications securing federal air rights for the project because it passes over BNSF tracks.

The port also needed to reopen its environmental impact study after 35 Columbian white-tail deer were relocated to the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge in 2013. The animals were endangered at the time when they were taken from the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge for the Columbian White-Tailed Deer near Cathlamet.

But finally, in November 2019, the port signed a contract with Battle Ground-based Tapani Inc. for the project’s final phase.

Grening said that, if any future delays do arise, it might be due to girders that need to be manufactured off-site. It’s not entirely clear when they will arrive, or how COVID-19 restrictions might impact the timeline, but the port should know by January.

“If there’s any sensitivity to this, let’s chalk it up to COVID,” Grening said. “I think we’re going to be fine.”

The project’s progress is welcomed by downtown businesses.

“The overpass just adds to the growth of downtown, which is right in line with the growth of Ridgefield, so we’re happy about it,” said Marykay Lamoureaux, executive director of Ridgefield Main Street. “All of this is going to provide even greater access to geographic amenities that are very unique to Ridgefield.”

COVID-19 has been a challenge for local businesses. But one silver lining for businesses downtown, Lamoureaux noted, was that the pandemic and construction are taking place at the same time, which could offset their negative impacts.

“The port was able to do a lot of that construction when not a lot of people were down, and that’s a good thing,” she said. “There was a real chance for disruption when that construction occurred this spring and summer.”

While construction continues, the port has closed access to the Mill Street rail crossing. The port website has detour information.

Columbian county government and small cities reporter