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Sacramento Railyard Redevelopment Project

Photo courtesy of Carlos Eliason
City of Sacramento

The Union Pacific Railyards north of downtown Sacramento, Calif., is a historic landmark where settlers worked together to connect the West to the rest of the nation. Completed in 1869 as part of the Transcontinental Railroad, it was the centerpiece of the region’s economy and helped Sacramento transform itself into an industrial giant and vital transportation hub.

For many years, it was the largest railroad complex west of the Mississippi. When Central Pacific Railroad – which later merged into the Southern Pacific Railroad – occupied the site, it employed one-third of the Sacramento-area work force and was the city’s largest employer for more than eight decades. But when Union Pacific Railroad bought the property from Southern Pacific Railroad in 1996 and moved rail operations to Roseville, Calif., the site was abandoned.

For more than a decade, Sacramento officials have been eager to transform the Union Pacific Railyards into a transportation hub suited to the needs of the 21st century.

“We envision a multimodal transit center that will serve all modes of travel,” says Linda Tucker, city of Sacramento media and communications specialist.

The city also wants to convert the 240-acre property into a cultural and entertainment district with additional plans for 10,000 residential units and more than 3 million square feet of commercial office and retail development in the years to come, Tucker says. She adds that the city plans to retain a number of historic buildings on site and expand the railroad museum to celebrate the railroad’s historical significance in the region.

But first, the city needs to replace a half-mile of the current railroad track, straighten track alignment and move the track about 500 feet north of its current positioning to improve access to downtown Sacramento and make room for future development. The project also entails building passenger platforms, pedestrian tunnels and two bridges over the new railroad tracks. The bridges are already finished, and contractors are now performing the excavation for the tunnels. The new railroad tracks will be in the new location by next spring.

Making Steady Progress

Photo courtesy of Carlos Eliason
City of Sacramento

According to Fran Halbakken, Railyards project manager with the city of Sacramento, the tracks will be operational by next summer, and the project should be finished by the end of 2012. Construction on Fifth and Sixth streets connecting either side of the bridges to downtown Sacramento will commence early next year and will be completed by spring 2013. She is confident work will be completed on schedule thanks to the all-star project team.

“This is a pretty complicated job trying to keep all of these different parts sequenced and moving along, and coordinating with different contractors,” Halbakken notes. “We are working in concert with Inland American, who took over the project as property owners last summer. We are very blessed to have Vali Cooper as our construction management company. They are doing a great job managing the project, and the general contractor, Granite Construction, and its numerous subs have been great partners, as well.” Other key partners include DCM Group.

She says the main challenge contractors face right now is excavating the two pedestrian tunnels and a service tunnel without disrupting key utilities that service the area. “At one point, there were hundreds of buildings on this site,” Halbakken states.

“Now, we have seven that are on the north of where the new tracks are going to be, as well as two buildings to the south of where the tracks currently are. There aren’t separate meters for each of the nine properties that are left, so we have been putting in new utilities and services to each of the buildings, while trying to keep the old ones in service.”

When Reality Set In

Building the infrastructure requires $221 million in public funds and $4 million in private developer funds, which Tucker says will be money well spent.

“It’s been a high priority for the region for at least five years,” she states. “Our Congressional representative, Doris Matsui, went to bat for us in Washington when stimulus funding became available, so the project will make use of $25 million in stimulus funds.

“There was a big sigh of relief when groundbreaking occurred in April,” Tucker says. “It seems like it has been quite a long journey. “Big projects like this are an enormous benefit to the city and to the region.”

“We have an exciting vision for this property that the city has been talking about for decades,” Halbakken adds. “We’re finally turning dirt and making it happen.”

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