City to seek funding for Bell Road overpass


Although the project was ditched in 2020, the city of Blaine will be seeking grant funding in February with the support of BNSF Railway to build a bridge over the railroad crossing on Bell Road near its intersection with Peace Portal Drive.

The city of Blaine has hired David Evans and Associates, Inc. to conduct a feasibility study for the Bell Road grade separation project that will help the city write grants for funding. Blaine City Council approved the $80,000 contract during its December 12, 2022 meeting.

The Bell Road and Peace Portal Drive intersection, which connects downtown Blaine to Birch Bay and Semiahmoo and offers access to I-5, causes delays for many commuters during rush hour and when a train is present. The angled street approach to the four-way stop often leaves drivers confused as to who has the right-of-way.

Interim city manager Dave Wilbrecht said the city needs a fix for the dysfunctional intersection. 

A grade separation was considered in 2020, but was deemed too costly, so the city pursued adding streetlights and additional traffic lanes. When BNSF officials monitoring the grade separation project contacted the city in late 2022 to offer support, Wilbrecht said the city decided it was the best solution and began work toward securing funding.

The feasibility study will determine the scope, design and cost elements of the project to support the city with future grant applications, Wilbrecht said. 

French Thompson III, public infrastructure and investments general director for BNSF, told The Northern Light in an email that BNSF sees a grade separation as the long-term solution. BNSF will be offering the city grant writing support along with its federally mandated 5 percent contribution to the cost of the project. Thompson also said with the passing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in November 2021, this is an ideal time to pursue federal funding.

Wilbrecht estimates the project to exceed $50 million. 

The city will take leadership of submitting grants, the first of which is due February 28, while BNSF will provide grant writing help. Wilbrecht said funding from the first grant, with a maximum amount of $25 million, would be used to develop the project’s scope and determine an estimated cost. The city would then apply for another grant to fund design and development, which he said would not begin until 2024. That would act as preliminary work for a third grant application for construction. 

IIJA authorized $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending across more than 380 federal programs.

The city has also planned for the project to replace the Dakota Creek bridge on Blaine Road, which becomes Bell Road before the railroad crossing. Thompson said the project would not directly impact BNSF operations.

“The main benefit of the project is the elimination of train-vehicular interaction and provide a quality of life and mobility improvement for the residents of Blaine and its surrounding communities,” Thompson wrote.

In 2020, city staff discussed the possibility of a grade separation project with Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and estimated a starting cost of $50 million. Former city manager Michael Jones said at the time that it was determined to be too expensive, adding that the necessary adjustments would be too disruptive to the area. The city therefore sought funding for a $3 million project to install streetlights and bypass lanes.

Wilbrecht also said the cost of the project began to quickly exceed $50 million once the Dakota Creek bridge replacement was included. Now, with BNSF on board, the city will give it another go, but if it cannot secure sufficient funding, Wilbrecht said they will have to pursue other options.

“If the grade separation doesn’t come through, we still need to solve the problems at this intersection,” he said.  

Wilbrecht said WSDOT has been supportive in communicating and planning with the project. He also said the city is encouraging Whatcom County to get involved with the project since it affects Birch Bay residents.

Whatcom County Public Works spokesperson Mandy Feutz told The Northern Light in an email the city of Blaine and public works are communicating about the project.


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  • ILoveBlaine

    Council tried for years for an overpass. State said too costly, plus grade considerations made it nearly impossible. What has changed is BNSF recent ‘support’, but what does that mean? I would be careful hitching Blaine’s star to BNSF. They have disappointed many times in the past. Let’s go for a reasonable, in our lifetime, solution. Blaine Council, please weigh the options carefully. As Council member and Mayor for many years, I have lived through many “solutions” to this dilemma. Just be wary of the players involved.

    Wednesday, January 11 Report this