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Hardcastle Ave. realignment will hinge on coordinated plans between Woodburn and Union Pacific Railroad

PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Realignment of the Hardcastle Avenue at Front Street will make the intersection safer for vehicles turning north onto Front and pedestrians crossing.The realignment of the Hardcastle Avenue intersection at Front Street in Woodburn is moving forward, but the most challenging aspect of it is at hand.

On Monday, April 22, Woodburn City Council gave the go ahead for City Administrator Scott Derickson's office to work out an agreement with Union Pacific Railroad by which the two entities can coordinate the work.

Hardcastle has been a priority target for the city, primarily for safety concerns. The intersection connects front street at an angle, which poses awkward visibility and turning, especially for larger rigs and commercial vehicles turning north onto Front Street.PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Realignment of the Hardcastle Avenue at Front Street will make the intersection safer for vehicles turning north onto Front and pedestrians crossing. Left turns from Hardcastle onto Front Street northbound are especially tricky.

The unwieldy intersection is also regarded as perilous to pedestrians. Over the years accidents at the site include a tractor-trailer crash with a train in 2011 and a pedestrian fatality in 2009.

A report from Woodburn Public Works Director Eric Liljequist to the council noted:

"Due to traffic and pedestrian safety concerns, the Hardcastle Avenue at

Railroad Project was implemented to enable easier pedestrian and truck turning movements through the existing intersection of Hardcastle Avenue and Front Street. A major component of this project is coordination with the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR)."

That coordination component is the current step. Complicating the task is the sheer volume of rail traffic. A UPRR project to change the crossing pad at the Lincoln Street earlier this month closed the intersection for about two days and delayed freight rail. Passenger trains and switch engines or shunters did cross during the project work, but they rolled through very slowly.

"Trains cannot operate through that crossing when they're working," Union Pacific spokesman Tim McMahan said in reference to the Lincoln Street crossing project. "There's about 18 trains through that crossing per 24-hour day."PMG PHOTO: JUSTIN MUCH - Realignment of the Hardcastle Avenue at Front Street will make the intersection safer for vehicles turning north onto Front and pedestrians crossing.

The Hardcastle project will require reconfiguring railroad signal apparatus, which must be done by UPRR crews. Woodburn is required to pay UPRR $44,700 for an easement and an additional $795,060 for track and signal expenses the railroad incurs from the project.

Earlier this year a report on the project noted that its overall cost increased significantly beyond the original estimate; the initial estimate was $1.2 million, while the updated price tag is $2,131,000. Reasons cited included: updated Federal Railroad Administration requirements; Union Pacific's limitation on gate lengths, necessitating four gates at the intersection; the realignment requires a wider crossing for trucks due to the relative narrow width of Front Avenue.

Other cited price-increasing factors included higher costs to Union Pacific, the easement and overall construction costs.

"Any Roadway Improvement or Construction Proposal that governmental agencies, businesses or individuals make that may affect or are near Union Pacific Railroad rights of way must be evaluated by the railroad to ensure the safety of the public and railroad employees, maintain the quality of rail service to our customers and protect our assets," a UPRR document on crossing construction procedures reads. "While these types of projects may seem easy at first glance, the amount of coordination between the agency (city) and Union Pacific can take many months to get to construction."

McMahan said that process is afoot.

"We're still finalizing agreements associated with this project," McMahan said. "Once agreements are finalized, it could be 90 to 120 days until work begins. The actual work should take about a week to complete, though the city contractor may require road closures for a longer period of time."

The city will establish a detour for Hardcastle traffic once the work begins. If UPRR and the city can coordinate plans smoothly, traffic at the intersection could smooth out by the end of this year.

"Once the agreement is fully executed, our consultant will continue to work with UPRR on timelines for construction activities," Liljequist said. "We are hoping that the majority of the work will be completed this year, but much is still dependent on UPRR's track and signal crews scheduling and availability. 

"I hope to know more in the coming weeks."

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