City, county and Port looking at vehicle vs. rail traffic

Grays Harbor County, the Port of Grays Harbor and the city of Aberdeen are entering into a special interlocal agreement to figure out what to do about conflicting vehicle and rail traffic in East Aberdeen.

The agreement comes days after Aberdeen Fire Chief Tom Hubbard voiced concerns about getting emergency help into the Olympic Gateway Mall area when it’s blocked by trains for long periods of time, worried that the situation may grow worse when Walmart expands and if crude oil shipments from the Harbor become a reality. Three projects to bring crude oil in by rail and ship it out on vessels are currently in the permitting process in Hoquiam.

On Monday, the county commissioners approved the interlocal agreement with the other entities making way for a “traffic corridor study” with an emphasis on the situation in East Aberdeen.

“The purpose of this agreement is to facilitate the parties retaining the services of consultants to conduct preliminary investigations, engineering and planning to improve traffic and safety in the corridor, in particular by considering a grade separation between the railroad tracks and traffic on East Heron Street and safety enhancements to rail crossings along the corridor, together with such other services as the Parties may, from time to time, agree in writing,” the interlocal agreement states.

The study is expected to cost $24,884 with the cost expected to be split between the three entities at $8,294 each. The county will use its distressed economic development fund, which it received from a partial sales tax rebate from the state.

County Commissioner Frank Gordon said he supports the study but thinks even more should be done.

“This is one part of the study; it’s a part that I call a band-aid fix and I’m voting to approve it because it’s needed there, but I believe the study should be expanded because right now we’re just trying to get cars in and out of the mall,” Gordon said during the commission meeting. “We need to expand the study to change the way the rail line moves and I’ve stated that to the Port. This should just be one step of many to expand and change the way the rail line effects Aberdeen.”

Commission Chairman Herb Welch agreed that more should be done to re-route the railroad around the mall, but he says that will take more time. Plus, he says, it wouldn’t make sense to re-route the railroad if the crude by rail projects aren’t approved.

“If these three projects happen, it will make sense to spend a pile of money to re-adjust the project,” Welch said. “… To look at re-adjusting the project now and have crude by rail fall apart would be wasting time and money.”