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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

President Obama expedites four transportation projects through 'We Can't Wait' initiative


On Monday, President Obama announced that four transportation projects will be expedited in Maine, North Dakota, Oregon and Washington through the “We Can’t Wait” initiative. The projects will replace aging infrastructure and improve the reliability of key rail, transit and highway systems, Obama said in a prepared statement.

The U.S Department of Transportation recently made available more than $470 million in unspent earmarks to states for various transportations projects through the initiative. Additional expedited infrastructure projects will be announced in the coming weeks, Obama said.

“These projects will improve connectivity across the regions — both rural and urban — providing for the safe and efficient movement of people, goods and services,” he said. “Coordination among agencies will save between several months to more than a year on these projects.”

One of the four expedited projects identified by the White House is the Devils Lake Rail Improvement project in North Dakota, which calls for raising a BNSF Railway Co. line to address the rising level of Devils Lake and to ensure the track remains open for freight and passenger traffic. The project previously received a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) III grant as part of an overall $100 million program.

The project will enable Amtrak to increase operating speed, improve long-term reliability, and lower maintenance costs for both passenger and freight rail, said Obama. The line connects rural communities in North Dakota, Montana and eastern Washington to larger urban centers with essential services in an area where extreme weather conditions frequently close roads and airports. The project’s federal permit and review process is expected to wrap up in winter 2012 and construction is slated to start in summer 2013.

The administration also is expediting the $89 million Point Defiance Bypass Project, which is part of the larger Pacific Northwest Rail Corridor. The project will provide more frequent and reliable high-speed intercity passenger-rail service between Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., and to points south, Obama said.

Passenger trains, including those operated by Amtrak Cascades, will be rerouted to an existing rail line along the west side of Interstate 5 through south Tacoma, Lakewood and DuPont. The trains currently must slow down due to curves and single-track tunnels on BNSF’s mainline near Point Defiance and along southern Puget Sound.

“This project, with extensive regional benefits, is key to providing more competitive intercity passenger-rail service between Seattle and Portland, Ore.,” said Obama.

The target for completing the federal permit and review process is December, with construction possibly starting next year.

The third expedited project is the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing, which calls for replacing I-5 bridges over the river connecting Vancouver, Wash., to Portland, and extending an existing light-rail system. The project also includes the reconstruction of highway interchanges, improved freight access, the procurement of light-rail vehicles and the construction of park-and-ride spaces. The federal permit and review process is expected to be completed by August 2015.

“It is a multi-modal project focused on increasing mobility of motorists, freight traffic, transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians,” said Obama.

The other project is the replacement of the Kennebec River bridge in Maine. The $25 million project will leverage TIGER funds to replace an 80-year-old movable bridge that’s at the end of its service life with a high-level fixed bridge. The federal permit and review process is slated for completion in February 2013.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 8/22/2012