Delivering the depot
It will take much more than political muscle to pick up the historic depot and move it north
By Bob Moffitt - Sacramento News & Review 03.01.07
The city of Sacramento wants to move the historic depot in preparation for a new intermodal transit facility in the rail yards.
"It's doable," said senior engineer John Meyer of Simpson Gumpertz and Heger Inc. He thinks raising the 55,000-square-foot depot would be the biggest job his firm has ever done, and possibly the biggest ever in the United States. His San Francisco engineering firm contracted with the city of Sacramento for the schematic and seismic retrofit portions of the project. The firm has previously lifted San Francisco City Hall and the Salt Lake City and County Building as part of earthquake retrofits.
Before anything is moved, the building’s base has to be reinforced so that the depot can be removed from its foundation. That should take four months. Meyer’s firm--if it wins the city contract--then will lift the building 5 feet off the ground and lower it onto two hundred rollers that function almost like a bulldozer’s track. Meyer says one challenge will be finding enough rollers to do the job. “These are the kinds of rollers you use to move heavy presses in an industrial plant, and there will need to be a lot of them ... but we’ll get them.” Moving the depot 400 to 500 feet will take some time. Fifty-five thousand feet is a lot of building and, for obvious reasons, it must be kept level. The rollers move at the blistering pace of 5 and one-half inches per hour, meaning the building will arrive at its new foundation within a month of leaving the old one. It will take another month to lower it and attach it properly to its new foundation.
Moving the depot is possible, but is it necessary? There’s nothing wrong with the building or its current site (that a good cleaning and renovation wouldn’t cure). The city’s real problem is with the tracks that run west to east behind the building and then take a big left turn at 7th Street. Hinda Chandler, project engineer with the city of Sacramento, says the turn slows down Amtrak’s and Union Pacific’s rail operations and limits the length of trains that can run on the track. “What the railroads want to do is straighten that track, so that from the Sacramento River to 7th Street, it goes in a straighter diagonal. For the passenger terminal, we would like to bring the terminal where people get their tickets and their baggage and get ready for the trip and bring them close to the tracks, to keep that relationship.” Doing the railroad’s work for them probably will cost the city $12 to $15 million, plus $30 million for new roads and platforms, plus $13 million to move the building. That comes out to $58 million--all for a relationship between the tracks and the depot.
One relationship that’s become slightly strained is the one between the city and the developer, Thomas Enterprises. Thomas bought the rail-yards parcel from Union Pacific using money promised by the city. Mayor Heather Fargo says the city and Thomas are business partners, but she thinks Thomas should have negotiated a better deal. “Union Pacific should have moved their tracks. They could have done it. It would have been easy. ... It’s a little bit of a sore subject, because we had hoped that our partners in all of this would be stepping up a little more, but the reality is, we wanted to get this done badly.”
The mayor says the city will have $67 million from Measure A and Proposition 1A funds to spend on this first phase. But spending that money now leaves them short on funds for subsequent phases.
All told, the mass-transit hub could top out at $300 million. Both Fargo and Chandler use the words “ideally,” “think” and “hope” when describing the hub’s future funding sources. Those are not words Meyer’s uses when describing how to lift a 55,000-square-foot building 5 feet off the ground.