June 16, 2007
On Wednesday King County Executive Ron Sims issued a press release entitled You can't spell trails without rails, which several people have suggested could indicate the start of a shift towards a more favorable stance regarding the future of the Eastside railroad.
This press release states that an agreement called "Principles of Dual Use" was signed by Sims along with representatives of the Cascade Bicycle Club, Cascade Land Conservancy and Transportation Choices. Among the clauses included in the document were
this priceless corridor must be preserved in public ownership
the future of this corridor is as a dual use transportation corridor that should ultimately be rails with trails
any trail use, whether paved, gravel or other surface, before rail use is interim
any trail before rail must be publicly marked as interim including with signage that clearly designates the corridor for future rail use
when sufficient resources are found to fund modern rail use in the corridor, the trail shall be rerouted within the ROW to accommodate rail use
while the Wilburton Tunnel must be removed to accommodate the widening of Interstate 405, a replacement structure sufficient to support rail with trail use across Interstate 405 should be restored
to advocate for funds for rail use at the local, regional, state and federal levels to accomplish these principles of dual use
Unfortunately, the most important item needed to assure the future of the railroad is missing. It is a clause promising to not remove the tracks should King County acquire the railroad. Critics question whether this really differs in substance from previous proposals, which call for keeping the corridor, but not the railroad, intact for possible future transit use.
The bottom line remains that once the tracks have been removed, it will be extremely difficult, both politically and financially, to reinstall them. Even if funds were to become available, experience in other cities shows that it could take a decade or longer to reinstall the tracks. So why the rush to remove them (and at a cost of tens of millions of dollars to the taxpayers)?
It is also interesting to see who signed this agreement -- and who didn't. The Cascade Land Conservancy and Cascade Bicycle Club apparently played a role in facilitating or promoting King County's removal of the tracks between Issaquah and Redmond on the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish despite bitter opposition by local residents.
Noticeably absent from this agreement were the two most active advocates of preserving the railroad (not just the right of way, but also the railroad itself). They are Eastside Rail Now! and All Aboard Washington. Why?
One thing that is certain. Ron Sims and other public officials have become more aware of the the strong public sentiment for preserving and utilizing the railroad for a high quality transit service that would be used by thousands (and eventually tens of thousands) of people daily rather than scrapping it for a bicyle trail that would be used by just a few hundred daily in good weather. However, it is questionable whether they yet fully grasp how inexpensively and quickly such a service could be implemented.
We look forward to the next step, which would be a stronger statement of support for preservation of the railroad. Such a statement needs to include a clause promising to not remove the tracks. It should also include a clause agreeing to begin a pilot transit service as quickly as possible and work towards a gradual upgrading of the tracks and the transit service as funds become aavailable. Moreover, it should be a statement that could be agreed upon by all parties, not just the bicycle trail advocates.
Does this announcement truly represent progress towards a shift in policy, or is it just a clever PR move? Also, will all of these promises really mean anything once the track is gone? Let us know what you think.
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