Council dives into details of Waterfront Connector, learns of delay to trackside warning system

Friends of the Edmonds Library board member Summer LeMieux and her 4-month-old daughter Evelyn participated in the Friends presentation before the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night. To LeMieux’s right is Friends President Luke Distelhorst.

During an Edmonds City Council meeting in early April, numerous questions and concerns were raised regarding plans for a single-lane bridge to provide emergency access to the Edmonds waterfront — including under what circumstances first responders would use the bridge.

In response, the city council Tuesday night received a visit from Kevin Zweber, South County Fire’s Assistant Chief of Fire Protection. He assured the council that the bridge — known as Edmonds Street Waterfront Connector Project — would only be used when first responders experienced emergency delays in getting to the waterfront due to a train blockage or an extremely long freight train.

“It’s for emergency use only,” Zweber said. “It wouldn’t be used on a daily basis.”

In the end, the goal “is to provide better emergency care to the waterfront,” he added.

Public Works Director Phil Williams said that according to South County Fire data, there were approximately 100 emergency calls on the waterfront last year, or about two per week.

Councilmember Kristiana Johnson asked how many times the train tracks have been blocked long enough to require emergency measures, such as the uncoupling of trains, to get emergency responders or victims through.

Williams replied that in the eight years that he’s been with the city, an emergency situation has occurred four or five times. Incidents have included two cases where people committed suicide, a semi-truck that was hit on the tracks and a freight train that was stalled due to a mechanical failure.

“I want to get a handle on the problem we are trying to solve,” Johnson said. “It seems like we’ve morphed from a pedestrian bridge to emergency access, for a fire truck.”

Williams replied that the project from the beginning was planned to address “emergency access to the waterfront.” However, when building a structure to do that, he added, “it doesn’t take you very long to realize there are a whole lot of other benefits that such a structure could provide to the city in terms of pedestrian non-motorized access. So we have certainly highlighted those benefits as well but it was never anything other than an approach to emergency access.”

Train traffic will continue to build in the future and that also means an increase in blockages as well as more freight trains — some of which have nearly 200 cars and can take four minutes to cross through Edmonds, Williams said.

Edmonds Mayor Dave Earling added that the council received a report in 2016 explaining that the main driver behind the Waterfront Connector project was to address safety concerns.

Councilmember Tom Mesaros noted that the connector would also allow ferry traffic to be unloaded during a blockage, and that comment drew concerns from Councilmember Diane Buckshnis, who said the ferry system should be contributing to the project if they were going to benefit from it.

“I think the intent is to get money any place we can get it (for the project),” Earling said. City officials have traveled to Washington, D.C. to talk with federal lawmakers about the estimated $30 million connector, “and it’s high on their agenda,” Earling added. The city received more than $6 million from the state during the last legislative session, which followed an additional approximately $2 million received earlier from the state and other sources.

A topic related to the train tracks also was raised during another part of Tuesday night’s meeting, when staff presented a report on progress in meeting performance measures outlined in the city’s Comprehensive Plan. One of those measures was the city’s long-awaited trackside warning system at the Dayton and Main Street railroad crossings, which would significantly reduce train horn noise along the waterfront.

During his last report in March to the council regarding the system, Williams said the city had completed the right-of-way permitting process with the BNSF railroad, and the next step was to install PUD service meters that will power the system. The hope, Williams added, was to have it ready for operation this summer.

However, Williams reported on Tuesday night that the city has hit an additional roadblock. After working out a plan to run conduits for the system and to install the horns on existing BNSF infrastructure, the city learned that BNSF is now working with the State Department of Transportation on a much larger project that includes relocating all BNSF signals.

“We were putting our warning horns on the existing signals, not knowing that they were planning to move them,” Williams said. The city had already received specific leases and easements to run conduits to existing signals, only to find out that those signals will be moved to a different location in the next five months, he added.

The city is now working to see if it can incorporate its work on the wayside horn system into the new BNSF project being planned “and get it all done at the same time,” Williams said. “It would make no sense at all to go out…and put ours in only to have it ripped out and set off to the side and have to install it again in six months.”

Also during its Tuesday meeting, the council:

– Discussed a proposal to amend the city’s Comprehensive Plan map designation of 10 properties located between Highway 99 and Edmonds Way/SR 104. The properties, located north of the Highway 99/SR 104 interchange and south of 240th Street Southwest, are currently designated Edmonds Way Corridor. If approved, this proposal would change the designation to Highway 99 Corridor. It would allow property owners in the area to seek a subsequent rezone from Residential Multi-Family to General Commercial. A public hearing was also scheduled but no one testified.

– Approved a final unit lot subdivision for the Brackett’s Corner development, a 14-detached dwelling unit project under construction at the southwest corner of 212th Avenue Southwest and 80th Avenue West.

– Approved as part of the consent agenda an interlocal agreement with the Edmonds School District to once again have a School Resource Officer at Edmonds-Woodway High School, starting with the 2018-19 school year. The police officer who will serve in that role, Tom Smith, was stationed at EWHS before the position was eliminated during budget cuts in 2010.

– Heard a presentation on the Shoreline Master Program periodic review, which is due to be submitted in June 2019, and a report on the city’s Critical Areas Ordinance.

– Listened to proclamations for Public Works Week and National Police Week and a presentation from Friends of the Edmonds Library.

— Story and photo by Teresa Wippel

4 Replies to “Council dives into details of Waterfront Connector, learns of delay to trackside warning system”

  1. Anyone want to take bets that the wayside horns will be done in 6 months? The completion goal for this project is as fictional as having double tracks thru our city!


  2. Thank you Theresa for your once again thorough reporting!!

    I have yet to review the minutes or watch the video, but two alarming comments came out of this report. Our Deputy Fire Chief Zweber stated, “It’s for emergency use only,” “It wouldn’t be used on a daily basis.” Yet later, Councilmember Tom Mesaros noted that the connector would also allow ferry traffic to be unloaded during a blockage.

    I’m confused as to the intended mission of the $30M project and it appears so are first responders and council. Either this is an EMS solution in the rare event of a train blockage or it is some sort of hybrid project. According to Mr. William’s statement, “in the eight years that he’s been with the city, an emergency situation has occurred four or five times. Incidents have included two cases where people committed suicide, a semi-truck that was hit on the tracks and a freight train that was stalled due to a mechanical failure.”

    Nobody wants to talk about the cost and impact of all of the simultaneous activity going on in the waterfront in the coming months/years. We’re rebuilding the senior center, we’re building a bridge (that doesn’t appear to have a common purpose) and BNSF owns Railroad Avenue and will be reclaiming that property soon to complete their “double-track” infrastructure.

    To me it seems like a lot of irons in the fire, a lack of centralized planning and a common goal.


  3. I believe this is a great idea! It really has merit. So, if it is going to cost 30M to build, lets pass the hat around to the different agencies to pitch in. If the bridge is going to be used for ferry traffic the State of Washington or the Washington State Ferries should kick in about a cool 15M. For sure BNSF railroads should kick in another 10M. Simply figure out who is going to have the benefit of the most usage and make a financial pitch. This is not just a “safety thing”! Don’t Mike OBrien this thing to death!
    The Edmonds City Council has come along way and has worked real hard to serve the City of Edmonds. I believe that together they will collectively find a solution to the usage and financial portion of it will become clearer.
    Just remember, and folks who know me, I have been saying that the only way to help the City of Edmonds is by building upward. I think a bridge over the tracks is one of the best ideas to arise in Edmonds since I can’t remember when.
    This will be a win-win for all who work together for the common good of the Citizens of the Great City of Edmonds!
    Just get-er-done!


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