Tracks readied for return of the trolley
March 9, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Work on the long-planned effort to bring trolley service to downtown Issaquah will relaunch by late spring, after a yearslong hiatus.
City planners last week announced a proposal to rehabilitate a little more than a half-mile of unused railroad track from the historic Issaquah Train Depot to Northwest Gilman Boulevard. The city administers federal grant dollars awarded to the Issaquah Valley Trolley Project, the group behind the $500,000 venture.
Crews will repair 3,400 feet of track — replacing railroad ties, resetting rails and replacing ballast, or the crushed stones on the rail bed.
City Senior Engineer Rory Cameron said the city plans to advertise the project to contractors for bids in April or May. City Council members will then award a contract to the lowest bidder.
Although the city will handle administrative tasks related to the effort, the endeavor belongs to the Issaquah Valley Trolley Project. The volunteer group — a spinoff of the Issaquah Historical Society — has worked for a decade to launch a permanent trolley line.
City Senior Planner Christopher Wright said the city took the lead on the project in anticipation of the trolley entering service. The city owns the rail corridor.
Municipal and trolley officials hope the latest step will restore momentum to the delay-prone project.
Trolley Grants Coordinator Barb Justice plans for the track work to take place alongside the restoration of a trolley car meant to run the route between the depot and the Issaquah Chamber of Commerce office.
Justice estimates the track will cost about $100,000 to repair, while renovations to the trolley could total $200,000 to $250,000 from the $500,000 project budget. Grant dollars will also be used to retrofit traffic signals along the trolley track.
City and trolley officials said bids for the project could come in lower than estimated. Justice pointed to deals on recent bids sought by city officials, including a proposal to build the Interstate 90 Undercrossing for about $1 million less than engineers had estimated.
“We’re hoping that the case will be the same for the track rehab and the car,” she said.
The trolley project inherited a pair of cars from Aspen, Colo., in 2002 and 2003. The circa-1925 vehicles had run on streets in Lisbon, Portugal, and came to Issaquah after Aspen voters rejected a 2002 ballot measure to support a trolley project there. The unused trolleys await restoration in a barn.
Justice said the track work could be completed within several weeks after the council awards a contract, while the car restoration could be completed within a few months. She wants to see the trolley in operation by late summer.
Besides the railroad track repairs and the car restoration, the project includes modifications to traffic signals along Front Street North and Northwest Dogwood Street for trolley crossings. New lighting and signs will be installed as well.
Because work will take place on a railroad bridge across the East Fork of Issaquah Creek, the project required a special city permit. Although no work will take place in the creek, workers will repair railroad tracks and ties on the bridge.
The latest trolley work continues a project launched in 2000, when the Issaquah Historical Society formed a trolley committee. Members worked to establish a downtown trolley as a tourism attraction.
The group then leased a trolley from Yakima Valley Trolleys for trips along the downtown Issaquah route. From April 2001 and through the following spring, the trolley ferried more than 5,000 passengers.
Justice said the initial run demonstrated the desire for trolley service in downtown Issaquah. Justice — inducted into the Issaquah Hall of Fame last year for her efforts — said downtown attractions, like the train depot, helped make the early trolley run a success.
“You need a draw and the depot is a really nice draw,” Justice said.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.