A railroad bridge over Columbia Park Trail in Richland will be transformed from timber to steel this fall thanks to $2.2 million from the state.
Replacing the 200-foot-long bridge has been on the Port of Benton's wish list since another wooden bridge on the same rail line burned more than a decade ago.
Scott Keller, the port's executive director, said replacing the bridge with a steel trestle bridge will help keep a fire from halting rail service like it did with the Yakima River bridge blaze in 2001.
The port was able to rebuild the bridge that parallels Highway 240 in 21 days with special permission because of the emergency situation.
Also, the steel bridge will allow heavier loads to be carried along the track, port officials said.
The money for the project was part of the capital budget passed by the Legislature last week, though Gov. Chris Gregoire has yet to sign the bill into law.
Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, said the Port of Benton's railroad bridge was the kind of project lawmakers were looking for -- one that essentially is ready to go and will help create economic activity.
The rail line is important for north Richland, he said. The line, built in the 1950s, provides access to industrial properties owned by the port and the city of Richland, as well as to Hanford.
It is among three railroad projects in the Tri-Cities that received state money in the capital budget. The state also dedicated $1.8 million for Pasco's Heritage Industrial Center rail spur and another $1.4 million for the final phase of the Port of Pasco's Big Pasco Industrial rail project.
For the Port of Benton's project, the $2.2 million from the state should cover the construction of the new bridge and could be finished this fall, Keller said.
Keller does not expect construction to close the bridge or Columbia Park Trail. About 13,000 vehicles use Columbia Park Trail daily, according to the port.
The bridge goes over Columbia Park Trail just west of the Steptoe Street traffic circle off Highway 240.
The port is hiring David Evans and Associates of Portland to design the bridge. The port plans to pay for the design, which may cost $40,000 to $60,000, Keller said.
The Port of Benton owns about 15 miles of rail line that goes from Columbia Center Boulevard to Horn Rapids Road.
The Tri-City & Olympia Railroad Co. leases the track and maintains it. It also collects a delivery car charge for the cars they deliver, Keller said.
The port estimates about 2,600 rail cars travel on the track each year. It's used by Union Pacific Railroad and can also be accessed by the BNSF Railway Co.
Keller said efforts by Diahann Howard, the port's director of economic development and government affairs, and Roger Wright of RGW Enterprises in Richland, the port's contract engineer, were instrumental in getting state money for the project.
The port has been trying to fund the project for about five years.
"We were lucky enough to get it this year," he said.