The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the Environmental Assessment (EA) of the North Pole Road/Rail Crossing Reduction project in Alaska.
This allows the project to move forward into the next phases, including land acquisition, final design and permitting, as funding is identified.
The project proposes to reduce the number of grade crossings along the Alaska Railroad (ARRC) Eielson Branch track from Richardson Highway Milepost 9 to the Chena River Floodway. The FRA issued the FONSI after considering the potential impacts of several alternatives in the EA and reviewing public comments solicited through public meetings and other outreach. The approved project would realign the track on the landward side of the Tanana River Flood Control Levee, close nine grade crossings through the city of North Pole and relocate the existing crossing over the Richardson Highway, replacing it with a grade-separated crossing.
The EA was financed by $1 million in Federal Highway Administration funds that were reallocated by the Fairbanks Metropolitan Area Transportation System and the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. Funding for next phases has not been identified; however, the Alaska Railroad is seeking funding sources.
The project represents the first phase of a larger proposed project to realign the railroad tracks outside of the more urban areas of Fairbanks and North Pole.
ARRC also saw the delivery of 165-foot steel girders to the Tanana River Crossing construction site. During the next few months, 80 girders will be transported via slow-moving truck convoy along the Richardson Highway from Valdez to the Salcha site (highway milepost 332).
Each convoy will consist of three trucks plus support vehicles. Convoy speed is limited to 25 mph and the one-way trip from Valdez may take 24 hours, depending on weather conditions.
The girders represent significant construction material for the 3,300-foot steel span bridge. Known as the Tanana River Crossing, the bridge and an associated levee comprise the first phase of the four-phase Northern Rail Extension (NRE) project. When complete, NRE will add approximately 80 miles of new rail line to the Alaska Railroad system, stretching from North Pole to Delta Junction. The Tanana River Crossing is scheduled for completion in July 2014. Levee construction concluded earlier this year, and six of the 19 bridge piers have been completed, with five more currently under construction.