It appears that working together will be a bridge too far for two major railroad companies that serve Spokane Valley.
At Tuesday night’s meeting, City Council members expressed disappointment that it’s unlikely that Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific will partner to work with Spokane Valley to separate train traffic from roadways in a 42-mile corridor between Spokane and Athol, Idaho.
That news was relayed to the council at a special meeting with representatives from Sen. Patty Murray’s office and BNSF on Aug. 17.
The plan was for the two railroads to use the same main lines through the region, which would reduce the number of grade-separations necessary in the Bridging the Valley project. For now, however, it appears the companies will continue to utilize separate tracks.
“There will be no sharing of right-of-way, unfortunately,” said Council Member Rod Higgins.
“At one time we thought that the two railroads would join forces in helping us,” added Council Member Chuck Hafner. “They’re really not considering working with each other. And so we’re back to ground zero.”
Trains servicing and switching cars at the Inland Empire Paper mill in Millwood can back up traffic to Trent Avenue to the south during rush-hour traffic – affecting both cities. At other crossings, such as at Barker and Trent, about 50 trains go through a day.
The cost to construct a bridge over the Barker Road is estimated at $29.2 million, and efforts to secure state and federal funding have fallen short so far.
“We still think there’s some specific projects we can work on,” Hafner said.
The city is planning on developing a Web site that will relay Bridging the Valley information, as well as efforts to develop “quiet zones” at suitable crossings where train horns have been known to disturb neighbors.
In other news, things got heated during the “public comments” section of the council meeting when Scott Maclay – a local Realtor, outspoken critic of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office and founder of the Rattlesnake Motorcycle Club – was told he could not display a photograph of an injured Ryan Holyk taken shortly after a crash involving a deputy’s car in May 2014.
Holyk, 15, was biking in the area of Sprague and Vista, when he reportedly ran a red light onto Sprague. It was initially believed he had been struck by Deputy Joe Bodman’s patrol car – which had been moving over the speed limit without lights or siren -- but later analyses showed Holyk went over his handlebars and struck his head.
Maclay claims the photograph, which he said he received from the Holyk family, proves otherwise.
“This is not a picture of a kid who fell off his bike,” Maclay said. “This kid was hit.”
He added it is time for the city to form its own police department rather than contract with the sheriff’s office for law enforcement.
Council Member Hafner then held up a flier, which depicts the Holyk photograph, once Maclay finished speaking.”
“I think this (flier) is inappropriate to sit at my dais as I came into the meeting today,” he said. “It’s a scare tactic.”
Maclay then threw several of the fliers toward the dais. He was then escorted out of the council chambers by Police Chief Rick Van Leuven.
Finally, in other action, the council:
- Reaffirmed findings-of-fact in passing an emergency ordinance earlier this year halting new mining operations in the city.
- Appointed Chuck Stocker – a former Spokane Valley school administrator with involvement in civic affairs – to the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee.
- Agreed to move ahead with a $500,000 project -- $400,000 funded through a state Highway Safety Improvement Program grant – to upgrade safety signage and install flashing pedestrian indicators at four busy intersections.