EVERETT — After project costs skyrocketed the city abandoned a plan to reconnect Bond Street with a waterfront trail late last year, ending a push to restore one of the few pedestrian links the city has to the shoreline.
Improved pedestrian access to the city’s waterfront has long been a high priority of the community, but the railroad and funding remain tough obstacles.
“Our citizens really believe waterfront access is an important quality to the community,” Everett City Councilman Paul Roberts said. “I think we have come a long way, but more needs to be done.”
Roberts says the challenge lies with the railroad and industrial activity that separates the city from the waterfront.
“The question is how do we improve public access and preserve port activity,” Roberts said.
In July 2014, citing safety concerns, BNSF Railway closed the access point that many used to reach the Pigeon Creek Trail and beach, but that path required the crossing of an active rail line. Today to reach the beach users have to walk more than three-fourths of a mile from a parking lot near Terminal Avenue and Federal Avenue.
“It’s one of the best beaches in Everett, but there’s never anyone there,” said Tyler West, an Everett resident.
West, 25, who was enjoying a sunny midday walk at Howarth Park on Monday with his dog Blue, wants to see the city make it easier for people to access the waterfront.
“It would make the area more desirable,” West said.
After the Bond Street access was sealed, the city explored several options to restore the connection. But after costs quintupled, due to additional requirements by BNSF, the project was dropped.
“The added requirements had to do with advance telemetry systems that send and receive signals to detect oncoming trains,” wrote Kathleen Baxter, city spokesperson, in an email. “These additional requirements added over $300,000 cost to the project, which was originally envisioned as a simple guidance fence at the existing grade crossing.”
According to BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas, the city needs BNSF approval to build over the rail lines.
“BNSF’s position is that we do not allow access unless it’s a designated walkway for the public,” Melonas said.
Baxter said city staff explored several other project alternatives, including grade-separated pedestrian overcrossings, but none were determined to be feasible.
According to Port of Everett acting CEO Lisa Lefeber, a 2008 Port study found it would cost more than $12 million to construct an over- or undercrossing for pedestrians at Bond Street.
Lefeber said the railroad’s double-track mainlines and the high power utilities that exist in the area make access projects cost-prohibitive. Plus the clearance the Port needs to transport Boeing parts along the rail lines would land any pedestrian bridge from Bond Street in the middle of the terminal.
“It’s not unachievable, but is a very high bar to hit,” Lefeber said.
Late last year the city did begin work on a pedestrian bridge that will connect Grand Avenue Park and the Northwest neighborhood, carrying people to the heart of the Port of Everett property on W. Marine View Drive.
But that project took 14 years to materialize and the city was only able to build the pedestrian passage because the bridge will also carry utility lines, Lefeber said. The project is estimated to cost nearly $20 million and is slated to open by spring 2019.
According Baxter, the Grand Avenue bridge did begin as a utility project and the city received grant money to add a pedestrian walkway.
Roberts wants to see the Bond Street access point reopen, but recognizes the city’s budget woes makes funding a challenge.
“There are other ways of trying to address (it), it just requires some partnership,” Roberts said.
According to Meghan Pembroke, a city spokeswoman, there are no additional pedestrian access projects under way.
“But it’s certainly an interest in north Everett to access some of the amenities along the Port,” Pembroke said.