By MIKE BENBOW
EVERETT — The Port of Everett’s plans for a major railroad overpass extending Everett Avenue can proceed despite objections that it would devastate a park, choke public waterfront access and boost truck traffic through the downtown core, a city hearing examiner ruled Friday.
The city had earlier determined the project didn’t require a major environmental study. Friday’s ruling upheld that determination, rejecting an appeal from representatives of the downtown area and surrounding neighborhoods.
The $10 million overpass would extend Everett Avenue to Terminal Avenue along the waterfront, crossing two railroad tracks. Port officials have said the project is essential to keep trucks and the railroad moving and to ensure safe, continual access to the port.
"The main reason for it is to provide unimpeded access to the waterfront," John Mohr, the port’s executive director, said Friday. "This is a very important project as much for safety as anything else. It also moves the trains through faster."
There are several roads to the area now, but all must cross the railroad tracks, meaning trucks and emergency vehicles have to wait for the trains to pass.
Crossings at Hewitt, California and Bond streets all would be eliminated under the plan, a move that brought many objections from the surrounding neighborhood.
The overpass would extend through Maggie’s Park, which commemorates the site of the city’s first homesteader. The park, now about 2.3 acres, would be sliced in half by the overpass.
The port has agreed to compensate for that by paying $133,000 to the city to expand the Bayside neighborhood’s nearby community garden.
The hearing examiner described the loss of parkland as unfortunate and the loss of pedestrian access to the waterfront as inconvenient, but said the overpass will provide safer access than currently exists.
The overpass would include three traffic lanes, 4-foot shoulders on each side and a 10-foot walkway on the west side.
Mohr said the next step for the project is to reconfirm its funding. The port planned to pay $1 million, the ports of Seattle and Tacoma planned to chip in another $1 million as part of an effort to develop a fast-freight corridor in the Puget Sound area, and the federal and state governments pledged to pay the rest.
The port needs to complete engineering for the project and come to an agreement with a day care center operated jointly by The Herald and Kimberly-Clark Corp. The center is adjacent to the proposed overpass and would be significantly affected by it.
"We need to resolve their issues in order to get the federal funding for the bridge," Mohr said of the center.
He said the port hopes to seek bids for builders next year and to have the work completed in 2002.