RAINIER — The 13-year effort to make A Street safer and more attractive is moving forward, with contractors laying new railroad track late last week and again this week.
The new track, which is slightly higher than the previous rail bed, will improve safety and enable trains to move faster, said Chris Cuff, a railroad safety specialist who is overseeing the project.
When complete, the roadway will be flush with the tracks so it is safer and less jarring for vehicles to cross, Cuff said Monday morning. This will also ensure that the track lasts longer.
“We should never have to do this again, at least in our lifetime,” Cuff said.
In addition to improving safety, the project will give the area a facelift, new water and sewer lines and improved grade crossings.
“After so many years, I’m happy to see this project finally happening,” Mayor Jerry Cole said Monday. “Safety is the big thing. (But) it will also clean up A Street and hopefully encourage some growth down there.”
He estimated that the work will be complete in January or February. While there have been some minor disruptions, including a broken water line that resulted in a boil water advisory, the project has gone smoothly so far, Cole said.
City officials already are planning some kind of dedication ceremony, perhaps something like the “last spike” celebration used to mark the completion of the cross-continental railroad on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Summit in Utah.
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“We will do something special,” Cole said.
The rail line cuts down the center of A Street. Before the project began, asphalt covered the rail ties and rock ballast and only the steel rails were exposed. And there has been essentially no separation between the tracks and vehicles.
The project will create one-way streets on either side of the track, with curbs and gutters separating the track from the streets. This will eliminate the asphalt road surface over the track, exposing the railroad ties and aggregate base. This is called day-lighting the track.
Contractor Stacy & Witbeck is doing the railroad work, according to the A Street Rail Project Facebook that Cole is keeping updated.
The $11.1 million project will improve an eight-block section of A Street.
It has taken 13 years and effort from state agencies, stakeholders, state Sen. Betsy Johnson and the City of Rainier working together to make the project a reality.
About $2 million is funded by the Oregon Department of Transportation and another $2.9 million is from the Connect Oregon Grant, with a $750,000 match from the railroad. The Oregon Legislature approved $2 million for the project and Business Oregon committed $2 million. The City of Rainier committed $1.9 million for utility upgrades, freight mobility improvements and off-street parking.