A Rail Safety and Mobility Study is coming to Columbia County, which will support future grant applications as well as serve as a guide for future work on the rail system, according to port documents.

The study consultant, WSP USA, Inc. was selected at the port commission meeting Nov. 13. The port had previously issued a request for proposals for the study and had received three proposals by the end of September. A scope of work for the project had been finalized by Aug. 28 of this year, port documents indicate.

The scope of work outlines seven major tasks WSP must perform for the study. The first task includes evaluating existing conditions and defining problems of the crossings between railway and roadway, for both present conditions and conditions over a 20-year planning horizon. Other tasks include engaging with the community in creating a vision for safety improvement, as well as creating an action plan that outlines steps necessary to implement improvement projects.

The project has an overall budget of $100,000, with $54,000 already committed to the project by both private and public entities, Scott Jensen, Planner for the port explained at the commission meeting.

Project partners include cities such as Clatskanie, Scappoose, St. Helens and Columbia City, as well as Columbia County, and private businesses.

According to Jensen, the study will be divided into two phases, with Phase 1 being dedicated to collecting data on existing conditions, and Phase 2 devoted to developing and analyzing alternatives, which will be written as recommendations in a report.

“We did that so we can qualify for a grant, because the grant won’t let you commit funds until it’s been awarded,” Jensen said.

Phase 1 has been contracted for the time being, and Phase 2 has been included as an option to be exercised once the remaining funding has been committed, the resolution states. The budget for Phase 1 will be $50,000.

A county-wide rail study has been done in the past, which was completed in 2009, and headed by Columbia and Clatsop Counties, Jensen told The Chronicle in September.

Doug Hayes, Executive Director for the port, said this study will be more comprehensive than the last one.

“It’ll really be a deep dive into both the rail and the highway system,” Hayes said. “It’ll be looking at locations for sitings, looking at crossings, really looking at a deep dive based upon the highway systems laid out, the rail systems laid out, the businesses that use it, and also the population increase we’ve encountered.”

The rail study has been in the works for a while, with an informal meeting having taken place at the port office in January of this year. At that meeting, representatives from both private and public entities were present to discuss rail safety and mobility concerns with representatives from the port.

There will be more opportunities for similar engagement in the future, according to Jensen.

Jensen said questionnaires will be distributed to local city managers for them to give to city councils, and the study will involve a cycle of fact finding, making project drafts and getting rounds of input. Some of the input will involve both a South County and a North County meeting, Jensen said.

“There’s going to be a lot of public involvement,” Jensen said.


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