RAINIER — Rainier’s A Street railroad problem might finally have a solution, and more importantly, a timeline.
In an open house held at Rainier City Hall, the City Council, Oregon Department of Transportation and the engineering group David Evans and Associates laid out tentative plans for A Street safety improvements.
Plans to improve the street, where the Portland and Western Railroad track runs right through the middle, have been in the works for decades.
The project right now has $7.75 million in funding from federal and state grants as well as the Portland and Western. Construction from West Second Street to East Sixth Street is expected to begin, in the best-case scenario, in May 2018 and finish about a year later, according to officials.
The main improvement is to separate the train tracks from lanes of vehicle travel, according to Ken Kohl, the ODOT engineer overseeing the design of the project. Cars will travel in two one-way, one-lane roads, separated by the rails. Motorists won’t be able to cross the tracks at East Second, Fourth and Fifth streets.
The project will also create multiple pedestrian crossings, brand-new curbs, sidewalks and driveways, resulting in smoother travels for both vehicles and people, according to ODOT. Parking will be reduced to limited parallel spots, but the city of Rainier is planning a new parking lot behind the A Street businesses on the waterfront, according to city Councilman Mike Kreger.
Paul Langner, the waterfront facilities manager for Teevin Bros., a Rainier log export firm that sends 12,000 railcars yearly through the A Street corridor, was frustrated that the project took so long to materialize, but he said he’s happy it’s finally starting.
“This issue has been in our faces for 18 years,” he said at Monday’s meeting. “Let’s get this (project) to the finish line.”
Not everyone is thrilled with the new plans, however.
Jan Moon, who owns multiple buildings on A Street, including a nine-unit apartment and two retail spots, had some concerns. She said she knew the constantly ringing bells from the new crossing arms along the rails would annoy her tenants. She also said she had never actually heard of a train hitting anyone on the street.
However, she understood this project was important to many in the city, and said she respected that.
“I’m just hoping that when all is said and done, and the council and the mayor and the city administrator look at it and say, ‘This is exactly what we had plans, and we’re very proud of what we’re done,’ ” Moon said.
Mayor Jerry Cole said he understands that some citizens are going to be taken aback by the major changes, but he thinks the safety improvements are critical, and eventually citizens will get used to the updates.
“Right away, it will be a shock, but after a while, people won’t imagine it any other way,” the mayor said. “They’ll be like, ‘Gosh, I can’t imagine it any other way. You mean you guys used to drive on the railroad tracks?’ ”