This newspaper article by Anthony Roberts was originally published in the Oregon City News on September 26, 2007. I originally posted in on my website on October 2, 2007; I had very closely replicated the original layout of the article, but it didn’t translate well into this new format.
Oregon City News
LOCALLY OWNED BY PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP LOCALNEWSDAILY.COM
Serving Oregon City & Clackamas County Since 1916
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 • VOL. 87, NO. 38
Strong support from residents will likely lead to $285K in
improvements at railroad crossings, and a quiet zone
By Anthony Roberts
The Milwaukie City Council is close to approving new barriers at railroad crossings, a move that would make the city a designated “quiet zone” where trains cannot blow their horns, at a cost $285,000.
About 30 people showed up last week for a council work session – typically a sparsely attended affair – in support of the new barriers at three city railroad crossings. City staff said they've received more questions and input from the public on the train crossings than they have on any other transportation issue in the past several years, including the controversial light rail project.
“This issue really emerged ... by a margin of two-to-one, as the issue that carries the most creedance in this community,” Milwaukie Transportation Liaison Gavin Hales told council.
Council cannot take formal votes during work sessions, but the councilors who attended the session supported the project. There were reservations, however, including the funding source, and the fate of one local business that could be hurt by the project.
Prior to the year-long study into creating a federally designated quiet zone, Milwaukie had been planning pedestrian improvements at the Oak Street and 37th Avenue crossings. Harrison Street is the third crossing affected. The city already secured federal Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) for those projects, and that money can already be used for a portion of the total cost of the project.
In order to become a quiet zone, the city has the choice of installing more costly four-quadrant gates that would prevent cars from swerving between the current gate arms, or building traffic barriers that prevent cars from crossing over into the other lane near crossings. The latter would be accompanied by pedestrian improvements, and is the choice staff recommended to council.
After using the CDBG funds, the city will still need $285,000 to install the crossing barriers. Staff proposed taking that from a combination of system development charges, the “fee in lieu of” fund collected from developers in place of street improvements, and the state gas tax, which is different from the 2 percent city gas tax. With the current budget already passed, all of the necessary funds won’t be available until the next city budget cycle, which starts July 1, 2008.
Council agreed that the cost was worth it, but there was debate as to where the funds should come from. Councilor Joe Loomis said he was opposed to taking the money from the state gas tax. The money is allotted for transportation improvements, and Milwaukie uses it to pave streets.
“We need to keep that gas tax money putting gas tax on the roads,” Loomis said. “Everything else [concerning the quiet zone] I’m fine with.”
Council directed staff to continue looking at funding sources for the project.
Car wash conundrum
Mayor Jim Bernard identified another problem with the project. Waid Fetty, owner of Purdy’s Car Wash on Harrison Street, said he stands to lose 60 percent of his business under the current plans. The new barriers at the crossing would prevent drivers from taking a left turn into the car wash while traveling west on Harrison.
City staff and the Fetty’s worked out a traffic plan that would still allow a left hand turn, but involves a driveway that wraps around a currently vacant office building beside the car wash. The Fetty’s lease the land, however, and Bernard said the landowner hasn’t agreed to allow unrestricted access to the driveway in front of the vacant lot.
“If we can’t get a hold of Mr. Murphy, how are we going to say, ‘OK, that’s the driveway we’re going to use,’” Bernard asked staff, referring to the landowner.
The mayor said he supports the rail crossing improvements, but expressed concern over the Fetty’s situation. He suggested that the city might want to consider using the more expensive four-quadrant crossing rails that meet federal quiet zone standards without necessitating traffic barriers, but cost significantly more.
“How can we wipe out a business,” Bernard said about Purdy’s.
Installing the four-quadrant gates would add a significant cost to the project.
Community support and safety
Whatever the cost, council seems to have the support of the public, which is driving the movement for the quiet zone.
City Manager Mike Swanson said the quiet zone is the issue he gets the most inquiries about. "It's a livability issue," he said. "Our challenge on this project has always been balancing safety against cost."
The city manager noted that the three crossings in such a short distance create a noisy situation.
"The engineers are just doing what the federal regulation requires," he said, "It means almost a continuous horn as they go through. It's just a function of the number and the distance apart."
While the livability issue is apparent, proponents of the new crossings also point to safety concerns.
In the past year, a pedestrian was killed at the Oak Street crossing, and another was struck about a quarter mile away on an open area with no crossing. There was also a car that tried to drive around the gates that was struck. The driver survived. Despite the recent problems, the crossings have not historically been an issue, according to Milwaukie police.
"Prior to the car being hit we hadn't had one in our section of the tracks for quite some time," Milwaukie Police Officer Kevin Krebs said, "and we hadn't had any pedestrians hit in quite a long time either."
Man killed by train in Oregon City
A man was hit and killed by a train near 7th Street and Railroad Avenue in the early morning hours of September 24.
Oregon City Police said they responded to a call at 3:05 a.m. that someone was hit by a train on the tracks that run parallel to Railroad Avenue. Union Pacific said the man was on the tracks and failed to move when the train came through. The subject was pronounced dead by medical personal on scene. The medical examiner took custody of the man. He is a 34-year-old white male. No further information is available until next of kin is located. Visit Oregoncitynewsonline.com and Clackamasreview.com for updates.