After further review, it appears that an overpass -- not an underpass as previously believed -- is the most cost-effective option for a second access road to Bingen Point.
The issue of constructing an alternative access to the Port of Klickitat's Bingen Point property was discussed at length during the Bingen City Council's April 19 meeting.
Secondary access is seen as necessary because currently there is only one primary access road leading to and from Bingen Point, which houses several growing businesses with hundreds of employees.
Among those businesses is the rapidly-growing Insitu, which designs and manufactures unmanned aerial vehicles. Insitu is considering Bingen Point as its site for a large-scale business campus.
"We'd like to point out that the purpose of this is that Insitu wants to know whether there is a possibility a crossing that avoids the tracks can even be done," said Bingen Mayor Betty Barnes. "Insitu wanted speedy confirmation it would be possible. This review met that criteria."
Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway's main railroad line through the Columbia River Gorge cuts across the current access point via Maple Street. If there were to be a derailment or a stopped train, emergency vehicles could be blocked from getting to the area.
Previously, Washington Department of Transportation (WDOT) analysts had said an underpass would be much cheaper to construct. Yet in a recent meeting with stakeholders, the WDOT planners provided three possible locations for overpasses, with no underpasses proposed.
Why the change?
"WDOT came in with some different locations for a possible crossing of the railroad to make sure a stopped or derailed train did not block emergency vehicles," explained Bingen City Administrator Jan Brending. "However, now there is a big change in the process. When they originally looked at another access 15-20 years ago, they were not looking further east, and it didn't appear that an overpass was cost-effective."
In the most recent vision, WDOT officials surveyed sites east of Bingen's downtown area. There, because of elevation and other factors, an overpass becomes a cheaper and easier option. A previously-envisioned overpass closer to town would have had to cross over State Route 14 as well as the railroad tracks -- significantly increasing overall costs.
Although it's a preliminary concept, the preferred option at this point appears to be at a site east of Bingen referred to as the "Dickey Line." The site is adjacent to an old sawmill. At that point, the road has a relatively high elevation that would reduce the cost to construct a bridge there.
"There would be less earth movement required, and it would go over the tracks at the right location," Barnes pointed out.
Bingen council member Catherine Kiewit, however, questioned why an underpass was not even considered.
"Why not look into an underpass," said Kiewit, noting that the earlier studies reported that would be a much cheaper option.
"It used to be that an underpass was cheaper," Brending responded. "But with truck heights and water table issues, and having to temporarily move a section of the tracks to allow trains to continue to pass during the construction, that is no longer the case. With the overpass, there is very little impact on train traffic and you don't have to mess with moving the rails at all."
However, Brending made clear no further action on construction of a new access way is currently being planned.
"WDOT did the work, and now it's in a holding pattern. At least we know it could be done," Brending said. "When funding becomes available, this project can be elevated. This is an idea, but not a plan. There is no urgency. In the future when development starts happening, there will be urgency."
"This is important to us in our long-term planning," added Barnes. "If Insitu stays here, it hits the top of the priority list. If not, it may not be added to the list."
Brending also pointed out that the bridge is an expensive proposition, and the city of Bingen certainly would not be able to pay for it.
"We're not moving forward with any of this work," Brending explained. "We don't have the money. If the project happens, it will probably be a partnership of federal, state, county, city, and private funding sources."
The estimated cost of the project is $10-$20 million, just for construction of the overpass.
"Design work and permitting would add about another $1 million," Brending said. "It's a significant project."