On July 29 the Port of Vancouver USA began phase two construction of one of the most innovative projects in its 100-year-history, the construction of a piling-supported, watertight trench that will support a new grade separated rail entrance into the port. Considered the crown jewel of the West Vancouver Freight Access (WVFA) project, the new entrance will eliminate a chokepoint on the regional rail system and reduce congestion by as much as 40%. The $38 million project, which is being built in four phases, is expected to be complete in 2015.
The port’s CEO Todd Coleman said, “Cargos such as wheat, steel pipe, wood pulp and automobiles will move into and out of the port more efficiently, and that’s good for our region. Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation, and improving our ability to transport products for U.S. companies creates jobs and strengthens our economy.”
Also known as “the trench,” the project offers a unique solution to a growing challenge. Because trains entering the port currently must cross several main rail lines, regional train movements often delay port-bound traffic. The new entrance will allow trains carrying more millions of tons of cargo annually to bypass the mainlines by traveling under the historic BNSF Railway Bridge that crosses the Columbia River between Portland, Ore. and Vancouver, Wash.
To allow this unusual maneuver, approximately 1,400 feet of new rail track will be built within a concrete superstructure; that in turn, sits atop more than 410 pilings. Each piling, made of U.S. steel, is embedded 80 to 90 feet into the river’s northern bank and serves to both support the trench above the riverbank and securely anchor the structure during periods of high water. Designed to be submerged, the watertight trench will withstand hydraulic forces from the river, ensuring safe and efficient movement of freight into and out of the port.
Adding to the project’s complexity is the need for trains to turn to the north and ascend into the port’s operating area immediately after they travel under the existing rail bridge. Design plans have the new rail track turning and climbing approximately 12 feet over a distance of 950 feet and then connecting to the port’s ever-expanding rail corridor, also a part of the WVFA project.
Designing the unique rail entrance was a joint effort between the port and its primary engineering consultant on the WVFA project, HDR Engineering, Inc., of Portland, Ore. “Finding solutions is what we do,” said Kurt Reichelt, vice president and senior project manager for HDR. “And working with the port on this particular project, with its many distinctive requirements, has been a once in a career opportunity. We’re proud of where we’ve landed.”
Other local contractors working on the new entrance include Hamilton Construction of Springfield, Ore. and Rotschy, Inc. of Vancouver, Wash. The project’s first construction phase, which involved the installation of 275 of the support pilings, was completed on-time and on-budget by Hamilton in March 2012. In June of this year, Rotschy was awarded a $9.4 million contract for the second phase of work and will install the remaining pilings, approximately 140 in total, and construct the concrete superstructure. Two additional construction phases, including the demolition of several existing structures and final connectivity of the new rail entrance to the rest of the port’s internal rail system, will complete the project.
Funding for the $38 million rail entrance includes a $2.94 million grant from the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB) and a $15 million grant from the Federal Rail Administration’s High Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program. Central to the port’s success in competing for grant funding is the significant reduction in congestion that will result when the project is complete, benefiting both the port and the regional rail system.
Overall funding for the $275 million WVFA project is a combination of public and private funds. To date, the port has successfully secured $47 million in competitive grant funding from state and federal sources, and more than $46 million in funding comes from the private sector, including port tenants and BNSF Railway. The remaining funds are targeted to come from revenues generated by the port’s industrial and marine business.
Planning for the WVFA project began in 2005 when commissioners and staff identified the need to expand and improve the port’s internal rail system. Wanting to attract new businesses to Southwest Washington and help existing tenants and customers remain competitive in the global marketplace, the port launched construction of the rail improvement project in 2008. The WVFA project is divided into 21 individual projects, and overall completion is expected by 2017. To date, the project has attracted nearly half a billion dollars in private-sector investment and is expected to create 4,000 temporary construction jobs and between 1,000 and 2,000 permanent, full-time jobs.