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Economic and dam related articles

A Better Port

by Columbian editorial writers
The Columbian, December 19, 2005

One of the most complex and visionary transportation projects in Clark County has not drawn a lot of public attention, but the wheels of progress are turning quietly in the background. Fortunately, multiple stakeholders are making sure the wheels turn smoothly ... so far.

Port of Vancouver officials know that if they don't increase rail access into the port industrial area in the next few years, a projected increase in rail traffic will make today's considerable congestion even worse. So they're planning a new spur, likely connecting with the BNSF rail line that goes along the river toward Pasco and Spokane.

Some 40,000 rail cars travel into the port every year. That's expected to increase to 120,000 by 2025. In crossing the major north-south rail line near the Amtrak depot, the port spur causes frequent congestion of rail traffic in all directions. One possible solution is a new spur off of the east-west main line a few blocks east of the Amtrak depot, near the old Crossing restaurant and running along West Eighth Street under the railroad bridge. Another option is a new spur over the north-south line, a bit north of Eighth Street.

Either way, that new spur likely will come close to paralleling, and closing, the lightly traveled westernmost few blocks of Eighth Street. Fortunately, port officials say they've had productive meetings with several business there, including the Lafarge cement plant and the Albina fuel distributor.

Another challenge is making all of this happen without interrupting the city of Vancouver's plans to improve waterfront access after the Boise Cascade property is sold. "We've had good talks with everyone involved," said Todd Coleman, the port's deputy executive director. "Obviously, it's quite complicated." Oh, is it ever. In addition to the aforementioned stakeholders, the port must also work with transportation and environmental agencies, plus BNSF officials, in finalizing the plan.

But they've got plenty of time. Environmental and other studies are scheduled for 2006, design and right-of-way concerns are planned for 2007 and construction could start in 2008.

Port officials aren't even sure, yet, if this is the right solution. Other options have included a new rail route west of Vancouver Lake and a route hugging the east side of the lake, near the Fruit Valley neighborhood. The Columbian has editorialized against both of those options because of obvious environmental, wildlife and neighborhood concerns. The rail route to the southeast, if it avoids interfering with the riverfront-access plan, is the best choice.

"We're still moving through EIS (environmental impact studies) work on all of the options, but we fully expect that the south and east plan will emerge as preferable," Coleman said. That's encouraging.

Yet another challenge: The amount and source of project funding has not been finalized.

If port officials can succeed with this project, and we believe they can, then the city, county and region will continue to play a major role in international trade. The port, the west downtown area and the waterfront access area must all benefit simultaneously. There'll be a lot of maps unrolled, pencils sharpened and cups of coffee consumed before this project is completed, but it's off to a good start.

Columbian editorial writers
A Better Port
The Columbian, December 19, 2005

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