City of Washougal awarded ‘significant’ federal grant

$40.5M award will fund city's 32nd Street underpass project

The city of Washougal's planned 32nd Street underpass project would provide a grade-separated railroad crossing at 32nd Street, new connector streets in the Town Center, road improvements within the Port of Camas-Washougal's industrial park, a roundabout at 32nd and Main streets, a signal at 32nd Street and Evergreen Way, and a sidewalk and multi-use path. (Contributed illustration courtesy of the city of Washougal)

The city of Washougal will receive a $40.5 million federal grant to fund the design and construction of its 32nd Street underpass project.

“This is very significant and welcome news for Washougal,” Washougal City Manager David Scott said. “We are all very excited to receive this grant award. Our overall reaction is one of extreme gratitude and excitement. We are very appreciative of the support and leadership of our federal delegation on the issue of rail safety and on our project specifically.”

Washington’s two Democratic senators, U.S. Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray announced the grant Wednesday, May 31.

The City’s $50 million underpass project will reconnect Washougal’s Addy Street neighborhood with its downtown and Port of Camas-Washougal areas by reconstructing five intersections along 32nd Street.

“I can now envision what that corridor is going to look like in five or six years from now. It’s going to be gorgeous,” Washougal City Councilwoman Molly Coston said. “It kind of puts us on the map again with all the other projects we’ve got going on. What I’m hoping will happen, and I’m sure it will, is that people will all of a sudden start to look at Washougal and say, ‘This little tiny community has got a lot going on. Maybe I want to have a business there.’ This could easily really spur another revitalization into our downtown core and some of our commercial corridors, and even out at the Port, for more business. I just can’t see that this is anything but a real celebration for us.”

The grant was awarded through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) Grant Program, which Cantwell authored and guided through the U.S. Congress as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act President Joe Biden signed into law Nov. 15, 2021.

“This grade crossing is one of the busiest along the BNSF railroad line in the entire state of Washington, and it creates a real hardship for the Washougal community,” Cantwell stated in a news release. “When a train blocks the crossing, emergency vehicles can’t get through, and traffic backs up onto state Route 14 (Highway 14). Building a new railroad bridge and underpass structure between Main Street and ‘F’ Place will connect the two halves of Washougal while helping the entire transportation corridor — both road and rail — operate more efficiently.”

“This funding for Washougal is a really big deal, and it will be put to good use, helping reconnect neighborhoods and delivering all kinds of major infrastructure improvements,” Murray added. “This investment will help ensure that goods get to where they need to be on time and make sure this crossing is safer and more effective for everyone.”

Washougal received the second-largest amount of money from the program, which granted more than $570 million to 63 projects across the U.S. The largest grant, for $41 million, will fund a grade-crossing project in Alabama.

Coston said the city of Washougal’s grant amount is “incredibly significant.”

“We were asking for a pretty big number (and) thought we might get a few million,” she said. “I never really thought I would see this. I thought we could inch closer year by year … and the pot would grow.”

The project will include a new railroad bridge and underpass structure between Main Street/“B” Street and Evergreen Way along the crossing, as well as new roundabouts, intersection improvements, better pedestrian and bike facilities and roadside stormwater management. The project will also help rail freight move more efficiently, according to the news release.

“I live off of 32nd Street, so I probably use that crossing almost every day. There are at least 40 trains (each day), maybe more,” Coston said. “I’ve been backed up more than more than a dozen times on Highway 14 at 2 p.m. because it does not take that many cars to back all the way up from 32nd Street to Highway 14. The afternoon rush hour is always that way almost every day. … Even though there are signs that warn against it, people will actually enter the intersection thinking that they might be able to just squeeze in and end up blocking westbound traffic as well. It’s a mess.

“I know there are a lot of (vehicles) that will take the Washougal River Road exit in the afternoon, and they’ll go down ‘E’ Street like maniacs, or they’ll drive down Main Street to avert traffic,” she continued. “I think (the underpass will) relieve congestion in a number of different areas around the city during certain times of the day.”

The City has also received a $5 million grant from state for the project.

“That was contingent upon receiving the federal RCE award,” Scott said. “Not every state stepped up to assist directly in the funding of these RCE projects in this way. Our state’s leadership in this regard is appreciated.”

Scott thanked the entire Washington delegation, including Cantwell, Murray, and U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, as well as the Clark County Regional Transportation Council, the Port of Camas-Washougal, the Washougal School District and the Camas-Washougal Chamber of Commerce, all of which wrote letters of support for the project.

“This project is a great example of how partnership between the local, state and federal government is critical to assisting communities like Washougal successfully address significant challenges,” he said.

Scott said the City will be seeking “a bit more” funding for the project due to cost escalation, but still plans to complete the project in under five years.

“I’m hoping (the federal funding) will speed things up a little bit,” Coston said. “It’s not quite shovel ready, but we had already inched our way allocation-wise into design, so we were kind of there. We were right at that point where it was like, ‘We’re ready to put a shovel in the ground. Let’s get some funding,’ and it happened.”