Letter to editor: Council should reconsider its vote to exclude Main Street undercrossing

Dear editor:

On Oct. 18, the Edmonds City Council voted against including the Main Street Undercrossing (Project 1B) in the 2013-2018 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and Capital Facilities Plan (CFP). Project 1B provides for construction of a tunnel underneath the railroad tracks at Main Street to serve the ferry and to ensure 24-7 unimpeded public safety emergency access west of the tracks. Project 1B addresses a serious public safety issue and Council should reconsider its exclusion.

The subject of trains blocking grade-level rail crossings has been much discussed. Although coal train traffic generated the most recent interest, trains of all types and cargos – passenger, freight, hazardous materials – have for decades posed a train-blocking threat to public safety west of the tracks for a well-understood reason: In an emergency, minutes and seconds count.

Currently, law enforcement, fire and medical personnel contend with 42 trains passing through town daily. In July, a freight train blocked the tracks for 45 minutes. This month, the Main Street crossing was blocked when a Sounder train clipped a tractor-trailer. By 2030, trains passing through Edmonds are expected to exceed 100. It is easy to tally the cumulative impact of increased rail traffic, potential for more train-blocking incidents, and the negative effect on delivering emergency services west of the tracks.

Why exclude the undercrossing project from the CIP/CFP? Inclusion does not make 1B a done deal, but does give it potential. With estimated construction costs of 80 million dollars, inclusion means more study and analysis, and grant funding eligibility; however, to even seek grants, 1B has to be included in both City plans.

The Main Street Undercrossing project is a practical, doable and financially feasible alternative that can be completed in the near term. The Edmonds Crossing project,  the multi-modal (bus-rail-ferry-parking) facility at the old Chevron pier known as Project 1A, remains in both plans as it should. Unfortunately, 1A is not on the state, WSDOT or WSF radar until, at the earliest, 2030. Estimated costs for 1A were 237 million dollars in 2005. What will they be by 2030?

Can we afford to wait for something that may happen in 2030? Since summer, the Mayor and staff have worked with the Snohomish County Committee on Transportation and Snohomish County Economic Alliance to identify the Main and Dayton crossing problems as a high priority in the 2013 legislative session. Absent 1B inclusion in the CIP/CFP, work already done by staff and recent notification of first-cut eligibility for a Freight Mobility Grant are forfeit, and which I understand now had to be withdrawn.

Unimpeded public safety emergency access west of the tracks is needed now, not 18 or 25 years from now. A reasonable path for further exploration of a doable solution lies before us. After 40 years in the California, Idaho and Washington fire service, I know from personal experience what a delay in emergency response can mean, unfortunately, so do you. What have we to lose by inclusion? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Council should reconsider the Oct. 18 vote, and place the Main Street Undercrossing project in the 2013-2018 CIP/CFP.

Respectfully submitted,

Thomas J. Tomberg
Edmonds Fire Chief, Retired

  1. I completely agree! Funds are available – at least in part – if they would dispense with the plans for the round-about at 5 Corners. Which of these two projects present the most serious problems, now and in the future? I should think it is a fairly easy answer.

  2. Thomas.
    Could you please cite this source “By 2030, trains passing through Edmonds are expected to exceed 100. ”
    Thanks Nathan

  3. Public safety is important. The Richmond Beach Overcrossing cost $4.5m and was paid for by grants. BNSF helped pay for it as well. If we are looking for just public safety there are likely ways to do it with less than the cost of a tunnel.

  4. As a citizen who has requested City Council Reconsideration on an occasion in the past, I am very interested whenever another citizen discusses “Reconsideration”. With City Council packets sometimes hundreds of pages long, I believe it is very reasonable for the City Council to need to employ a Reconsideration Process from time to time.

    I encourage those citizens who support a Main Street Undercrossing Reconsideration Process to STRONGLY REQUEST the City’s elected officials provide ALL CITIZENS of Edmonds the complete RULES OF PROCEDURE for City Council Reconsideration. This is a critical first step for those supporting Reconsideration. Citizens need to know what steps are required to formally initiate and pursue City Council Reconsideration. The related PROCEDURES should be just, fair and consistently applied.

    The December 1, 2009 City Council Meeting Minutes provide some information related to citizen Reconsideration Requests:

    “Councilmember Plunkett asked the process for asking the Council for reconsideration. Mr. Snyder responded it could have been done via email or letter to any Councilmember. Councilmember Plunkett asked what obligation the Councilmember had to make a motion for reconsideration. Mr. Snyder answered any Councilmember on the prevailing side could bring it forward but was not obligated to do so. Councilmember Plunkett clarified if Mr. Reidy sent an email or letter to a Councilmember, it is his obligation to find a Councilmember willing to pursue reconsideration. Mr. Snyder agreed the person would need to identify a Councilmember willing to make a motion for reconsideration and for a majority of the Council to support reconsideration. Councilmember Plunkett concluded an email or letter asking for reconsideration did not guarantee reconsideration, only an effort for reconsideration. Mr. Snyder agreed.”

    Based on the December 1, 2009 City Council Meeting Minutes, I believe the citizens who support a Main Street Undercrossing Reconsideration Process will need to identify a Councilmember on the PREVAILING SIDE to bring the related Reconsideration Request forward to the entire City Council.

    I hope the City’s elected officials will soon notify ALL CITIZENS of Edmonds what the complete RULES OF PROCEDURE for City Council Reconsideration are.

  5. I am just starting to review Retired Fire Chief Tomberg’s letter to the editor in detail, but one question quickly comes to mind. What role does the City play related to accessing the ferry? I can see our responsibility related to safety at the waterfront, but ferry access is much less clear. If anybody has a solid answer to this question, I would appreciate it. Does the City have to take a lead role related to ferry access that might involve construction of a tunnel underneath the railroad tracks?

    I do know that a group of citizens in Bremerton formed a group called “Citizens against the Tunnel”. In a 2004 Bremerton Patriot article, it was reported that over 3,000 signatures were garnered on a petition that asked for a public vote on the controversial project. It also was reported that the Kitsap County Auditor’s office certified CATT’s petition. The same article states that a councilman named Mike Scott stated that the Council had failed in communicating to the public who controlled the project, which apparently ended up being WSDOT. U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks appears to have been very instrumental in securing Federal funds. The Bremerton Council voted 5-4 to not send the citizen’s tunnel issue to that November’s ballot.

    I recommend those interested do a web search for a Bremerton Patriot article titled “City Council votes down tunnel measure”. It appears to have been a highly emotional issue.

    There are several additional tunnel stories linked at the bottom of the article. One of the articles contains a 2 minute video showing the opening of the tunnel.

    On November 4, 2008, a Kitsap Sun Blog discussed why must the city share in tunnel maintenance costs?

    Ernie Moreno of Bremerton is basically quoted as saying that Norm Dicks got the tunnel done and asked why the City should have to share maintenance cost on a state highway?

    Many, many issues to discuss, but I am concerned with the city’s role related to constructing ferry access improvements as well as ongoing maintenance of any ferry access.

    Maybe the City has to take some type of lead role, but I wonder what WSDOT’s role in this matter should be and/or will be?

  6. Chief Tomberg – please know that I ask the following in a respectful and sincere way. Your letter states that:

    “The Main Street Undercrossing project is a practical, doable and financially feasible alternative that can be completed in the near term.”

    Chief Tomberg, can you or anybody at the City provide the citizens with completed studies and/or other support for the concept that the undercrossing project is a practical, doable and financially feasible alternative that can be completed in the near term? I have been unable to find such in my research, which I am willing to acknowledge may be too limited.

    I totally agree that unimpeded public safety emergency access west of the tracks is needed now. Actually, I believe such has been needed for many, many years. Darrol Haug commented above that the Richmond Beach Overcrossing cost $4.5m and was paid for by grants and BNSF. If so, might we be able to address our public safety emergency access issues for much less and sooner if they don’t include a ferry access element?

    I don’t understand why Project 1B appears to couple this City need for public safety emergency access with State ferry access. As a citizen, I’m willing to listen and learn.

  7. Nathan (comment 3)

    Regarding the number of trains estimated to pass through Edmonds in years 2020 and 2030, Bullet 4 on page I-4 of Volume 1, Chapter 1 of the SR104 Edmonds Crossing Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) states:

    “Ferry loading and unloading are interrupted frequently by trains moving along the mainline railroad tracks. This at-grade rail crossing slows the movement of people and goods and creates a safety hazard. On at least one occasion, heavy train traffic prevented an emergency vehicle carrying a critical patient to the hospital from getting off the arriving ferry. These conflicts will occur more frequently with the addition of commuter rail service (volumes are expected to increase from the current 35 trains per day to as many as 70 trains per day in 2020 and 104 in 2030).”

    The following will connect you to Volume 1 of the Final EIS:


    “…….current 35 trains per day…..” refers to year 2005.

    I hope this helps,
    Stephen Clifton

  8. Thanks Darrol for mentioning the Richmond Beach Bridge completed during November of 2011. The City of Shoreline’s website contains the following information related to the project known as “Richmond Beach Overcrossing Replacement”

    Project Desciption:

    This project constructed a new concrete bridge to replace the 1956 timber bridge. The bridge provides sole access to 35 homes on 27 Avenue NW. It was designed to accommodate Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway Company clearance requirements for a possible future addition of a third track.

    Benefits of the new bridge include:

    80 year life expectancy
    Seismic upgrades
    Improved bridge geometry, site safety and vehicle access
    Reduced maintenance and inspection costs
    Increased load limits (the old bridge had a load limit due to limited structural capacity)
    Meets BNSFs requirements and accommodates future growth

    The bridge was paid largely through Federal Bridge Replacement grants and contributions from BNSF. Final project costs are $4.25 million.

  9. While researching the Snohomish County Committee on Transportation mentioned in the letter to the editor, I found the following:

    A coordinated planning effort by Snohomish County, its cities, transit agencies and the Snohomish County Committee for Improved Transportation (SCCIT) has resulted in a document titled “Snohomish County Multimodal Transportation 30-year Plan.”

    This document includes the following two items:

    Edmonds Multimodal Terminal $127,000,000

    SR 104 – Connect/New Multimodal Terminal $11,000,000

    These two items might relate to Project 1A in the City of Edmonds CFP. The amounts in the SCCIT document seem low, however, so maybe I am missing something.

  10. Another point about seeking funding to study alternative projects:

    The Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB) issued a July 2012 Newsletter Release related to the 2012 Call for Projects also includes the following two points:

    1. The Board (FMSIB) is seeking eligible projects that would be ready to go to construction during the 2013 to 2019 time frame.

    2. FMSIB participation will be limited to the construction phase only but project costs and percentage participation will be determined based upon the total project cost.

    I can’t find any mention in the 2012 Call for Projects that FMSIB will coordinate funding so recipients can study alternative projects. Perhaps this will change in the 2013 Call for Projects.

  11. If public safety access is all that is required, a bridge over the tracks where Edmonds Street “T’s” at Sunset Ave. is an alternate location. The bridge could turn and go right into Brackett’s Landing. It would take a lot of permitting, but if done right, it would provide direct access for Fire and Police without having to wait for the train. I would bet, however, that the people living on Sunset would object.

    Some modifications to Brackett’s Landing Park would probably be necessary too, but it would sure beat worrying about a tunnel flooding.

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