Two major issues facing Toledo these days – replacing their water intake on the Siletz River and three spots in town that feel like a 9.0 earthquake when you roll over them in your car. Railroad Crossings. The city council wants them both dealt with.
The good news is that there is progress being made on both fronts. You’ll recall that before Toledo can replace its “close-to-failing-water intake” on the Siletz River it must have an environmental clearance from various federal, state and local agencies. The state and local ones have always been steady-ready to get the project moving because it’s just replacing the old intake that’s falling apart. But the federal government’s National Marine Fisheries agency is weeks behind in granting its permit even as time runs out on the current construction season which runs out in the Fall. The project is already two weeks behind schedule and if the work isn’t done before the rains come, finishing the project will have to wait until next year. And that could cost the city a lot of money because the bonds it sold to investors requires the work be done this Fall.
So through no fault of its own, Toledo’s bank account and water supply is hanging by a thread while National Marine Fisheries contends that it’s doing the best it can while being overworked. Local, state and federal lawmakers have pulled out all the stops on political pressure and some of it appears to be working, but it still seems that it’ll be mid-July before the project is started.
City Manager Don Munkers told the council that he expects to have the federal permits in hand by the 7th of July so that work can begin by July 15th. He said it’ll be quite a race to get the work done on time.
Now about the railroad crossings: Three of them – Butler Bridge Road, 1st Street by the bank and the crossing by Les Schwab Tires on NW A Street.
The city has been going round and round with the Willamette and Pacific Railroad over three street crossings of their railroad tracks which have deteriorated to such an extent that driving over them shakes your car like an earthquake. Uneven tracks, uneven pavement, huge gaps between rail and asphalt – it’s a mess at all three locations. The city has little say in the matter because the railroad owns the land under its tracks. But railroads are obligated to work with local governments to ensure the tracks can be crossed in a relatively comfortable manner.
Getting to the bottom of the dilemma Mayor Ralph Grutzmacher temporarily wearied of trying to deal with the Willamette and Pacific because they only lease the tracks from Union Pacific. And they weren’t budging. Grutzmacher contacted track owner Union Pacific and after a time eventually hit pay dirt. It took many months, even with the help of ODOT.
So now, Willamette and Pacific wants to fix the crossings right in the middle of the tourist and special event season in Toledo which is jam-packed with events through July and early August. Based on a work schedule proposed by Willamette and Pacific, they’d have Butler Bridge Road completely closed down right in the middle of one of those events. There is also the issue of making sure that Butler Bridge Road is closed for only two weekend days. That’s because the rest of the week the trucks are making deliveries to the GP plant and hauling out paper products to market. The two other crossings under repair at First and on A Streets would still have one lane open during the crossing repairs but having just one lane would back up special event traffic either during the Antique Street Show or Summerfest.
So, the bottom line is that Munkers is going to try to negotiate with the railroad to hold off their repairs until after the special events are over in early August. Munkers said he has no idea whether the railroad will go along with it.