County adds $300,000 to advance rail overpass in Aberdeen

The County Commission on Tuesday approved an allocation to be made in 2021 for $300,000 for the City of Aberdeen U.S. 12 Highway Rail Separation project.

Previously referred to as the East Aberdeen Mobility project, the preferred vision engineers have is an overpass at Chehalis Street in Aberdeen that leads to a roundabout at Newell Street that would allow traffic to pass above rail cars to businesses south of the tracks. It also would improve rail traffic to the Port of Grays Harbor and allow for more expansion at the Port.

Aberdeen City Engineer Kris Koski said there is a request for a Federal Railroad Administration grant to begin the design phase of the project. That grant, Koski said, usually covers about 50 percent of that phase of the project, which will cost about $1.4 million and cover “preliminary design and preparation for environmental requirements.”

The funds approved Tuesday by the county are “kind of a match,” Commissioner Vickie Raines said. “The city of Aberdeen and the Port are both putting in $200,000.”

Both the city and Port already have approved $200,000 to go toward a match for the federal grant.

The county’s .09 funds, or “distressed county funding” as Commissioner Randy Ross called it, “was felt to be very important to the process and critical to the economic infrastructure of the county.”

Officials said some businesses and private property owners likely would be forced to move, though they won’t know which ones until designs are more complete.

“As we move on in the design, that’s when we’ll know the impacts,” Koski said. “There will be private property impacts. But there will be a spelled out and set process for compensating those who are impacted.”

“Across from that intersection, there may be some businesses that will have to move,” Raines said with Ross echoing the sentiment.

The project also would clear the way for added expansion at the port.

“I can remember speaking with Port Commissioner Jack Thompson, who said several years ago that if we don’t get this done, it’s going to limit what we can do at the Port. We’re one vendor away from being able to say we can’t take anymore.”

“I’ve worked on this project off and on for the last 20 years … and to see this finally move in the proper direction is very, very exciting. I’m excited for the city of Aberdeen and the Port,” Raines added.

Koski said that if everything goes smoothly, construction could begin as early as 2024 and be completed in 2026.

The railroad is owned by Puget Sound Pacific Rail, which also owns tracks that run north from Centralia and south from Bangor and Bremerton to converge in Elma and head west to the Hoquiam terminus.