After years of delays, could the construction train finally be preparing to depart the station at the troubled Sacramento Railyards Redevelopment site? Who knows? But with a panel of “national experts” visiting Sacramento October 12 to discuss the project, things could at least be moving forward instead of backwards – or worse, underground where toxins lurk.

Organized by the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the national panel is from the Daniel Rose Center for Public Leadership in Land Use. They will provide preliminary findings and other insight on how to connect the Depot District in the Downtown Railyards to the riverfront, Old Sacramento, Downtown and West Sacramento. This public forum was the panel’s third visit since last year, so hopefully the city will get the advice they need when the panel reveals its entire findings.

The Depot District is home to a planned intermodal transportation hub for the region as well as additional land for future development. It is part of an overall redevelopment project for the railyards, which could take 15 – 20 years to build if and when construction starts.

City reports say the finished project could include 12,000 housing units, 2,400,000 sq-ft of office space, 1,900,000 sq-ft of retail, hotel, and other commercial uses, 29 acres of parks and open space, and create up to 19,000 permanent jobs. The vision is currently a collaborative effort between the City of Sacramento and Inland American Sacramento Holdings, which own the land.

In anticipation of something new and wonderful, the city has begun building two bridges and two pedestrian tunnels leading to the property.

The 240-acre brownfield site is located just north of Sacramento's central business district and east of the Sacramento River. It is recognized as the largest urban infill site in the region and presents Sacramento with a significant opportunity to accommodate future growth utilizing sustainable and smart growth principles.

The historic site was the western terminus of the 1869 Transcontinental Railroad and was the largest fabrication and maintenance facility west of the Mississippi. As a result, it represents Sacramento's heritage as a "Railroad Town."

Environmental remediation on the site began in the 1980s and the city has been trying to redevelop the site ever since. But the project has been cursed with blight, contaminated soil and finger pointing. In the past year alone, diggers found two large sections with contaminated soil and other buried toxic materials. And with a parcel this big, nobody seems sure of just how much of the property is contaminated.

One thing that concerned parties do know is that they want former owner Union Pacific to do the remediation. During its residence on the property, the rail company is blamed for leaving behind a myriad of soil contaminants.  Until this happens, new developers will keep their distance, the EPA and California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) will be around every corner, and that old construction train will remain in the station.