$600k federal grant coming for rail traffic solutions

Port, county and Aberdeen city officials all pledged this week to fix the potential problems involving the conflict of rail and car traffic in East Aberdeen.

They’ve all joined together in approving $24,884 for a “traffic corridor study,” and officials say a $600,000 federal grant is on the way to address the bigger picture.

Besides the county commissioners approval done on Monday, the Port commissioners approved the agreement on Tuesday and the Aberdeen City Council followed suit on Wednesday.

They say it’s the first step in the larger picture of getting emergency help into the Olympic Gateway Mall area when it’s blocked by trains for long periods of time and reducing congestion along the tracks.

A much larger study of the situation will also occur, thanks to a new $600,000 federal grant.

Port Director Gary Nelson said he anticipates the federal grant, coming by way of the Grays Harbor Council of Governments, will focus on preliminary engineering work on access improvements. The grant will be allocated on June 1.

“The first phase is to come up with alternatives and the next phase will to do some preliminary engineering and help us come forth with some solid recommendations for state and federal funding,” Nelson said.

County Commissioner Frank Gordon said he hopes the grant will also look at potentially re-routing the train access from in front of TOP Foods and Walmart to across a new railroad bridge that he wants to see constructed and head to the southside along the industrial areas where Weyerhaeuser used to be located.

Aberdeen Community Development Director Lisa Scott notes that those areas did have access to rail traffic at one point, but the Army Corps of Engineers removed the deteriorated rail bridge in either the late ’80s or early ’90s when Weyerhaeuser stopped using their rail spur.

“For the first time the county, the city and the Port are working together as a team,” Gordon told the council Wednesday night. “… This is a chance for us to really go out for some federal funds and some state funds. I met with Patty Murray’s rep down here the other day and she says we need an extensive study with different options and with the work that the Grays Harbor Council of Governments is doing, we’ll be able to have that.”

The “traffic corridor study” will be done by Portland-based David Evans & Associates, Inc. The scope of services specifically calls for a “grade separation preliminary analysis,” to develop the preliminary layout to figure out how to raise the railroad above vehicular traffic lanes as well as figure out unspecified “design alternatives.”

The consultant is assuming the longitudinal slope of the design will not exceed 3 percent and that the structure will be a prefabricated steel type, at the request of Puget Sound & Pacific Railroad.

The consultant is tasked with identifying “future design, permitting and specialty analysis that will be necessary to move the project forward to construction advertisement.”

Aberdeen Councilman Tim Alstrom notes that the East Aberdeen area is not the only place of concern, adding that a train could be parked in front of the pontoon construction site blocking that area for up to 45 minutes.

“And if it’s shift change at the pontoon site that creates a lot of problems, plus there’s access to people working at the sewer plant,” Alstrom said, adding that the railroad has been willing to discuss the situation.

“To me, it wasn’t that many years ago when we might have been dealing with the Corps of Engineers not wanting to dredge the Port because we didn’t have enough railroad traffic and fears of the tracks getting ripped out,” Alstrom said. “We have problems to deal with. But thank goodness we have industry and things happening and support of jobs and we’ll deal with these problems and it’s great that the Port, county and city are working together. And it’s good for all of us that people are working.”