WASHOUGAL — Against the backdrop of the gray Columbia River on an overcast Friday morning, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg touted the $40 million federal investment in the Washougal 32nd Street Underpass Project.
He was flanked by U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, and U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who all spoke to a group of local leaders and interested parties about the importance of the investment, not just for Washougal, but for the region.
“We’re so glad to be here to formally celebrate the $40 million that is going to help reconstruct that 32nd Street underpass and make for a better life and a better routine,” said Buttigieg.
The project will eliminate the intersection between 32nd Street and the BNSF Railway line by rerouting the road below it. It will also include dedicated bike and pedestrian space. It has an estimated price tag of $50 million.
Currently, about 45 trains pass by the intersection each day, meaning the lights flash, bells ring and crossing signal arms go down for about 2½ hours a day. Due to the intersection’s proximity to the Port of Camas-Washougal and state Highway 14, vehicles can back up onto the highway when a train passes by.
It turns state Highway 14 into a parking lot, Perez said.
“And the safety implications of not being able to get first responders through,” she added. “I think we’ve all felt a sense of panic when we see an ambulance is behind us that can’t get through because we know that could be our loved ones.”
The grant comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program, which Cantwell helped author as part of the 2021 infrastructure law.
“In Washington state, we are the gateway to Pacific trade,” Cantwell said. “More than 60 percent of the port traffic that travels to our ports from the Midwest, 60 percent comes on this line. … This is the busiest BNSF line in the state of Washington.”
Although the Secretary of Transportation was in Clark County, he did not visit one of the largest transportation projects in the nation: the Interstate 5 Bridge. Buttigieg did say that he appreciates Washington and Oregon laying the groundwork to make the project competitive for federal grants.
“Certainly we’re conscious of the significance of this project and in close contact with the project sponsors as they build up that stateside support and look for both state and federal dollars coming together,” Buttigieg said.
Because the Interstate Bridge Replacement Program is hoping to receive $2.5 billion in federal grants over the next year, it wasn’t expected that the bridge replacement would be a part of the visit, said replacement program Administrator Greg Johnson in a statement.
“By the way,” Cantwell said to Buttigieg during her remarks. “There is another bridge thing we want to talk about.”
Typically, it’s rare for officials in the Cabinet to visit Clark County, however, 2023 has been an unusual year. The administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, Isabel Guzman, toured Vancouver in February.
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