December 21, 1996 in Idaho

This Christmas, Sandpoint Has No Trains Moving Tracks Out Of Downtown Is A Great Present, Mayor Says

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Union Pacific trains that slowly rumble through the middle of Sandpoint - causing traffic jams, accidents and delays for emergency vehicles - disappeared this week.

The railroad finally completed a track relocation project that was in the works for 16 years and cost about $3.5 million.

“This is a great Christmas present for the city of Sandpoint,” Mayor David Sawyer said. “Those trains running through the middle of the city were a disaster waiting to happen.”

The 3.5 miles of track bisected the town and cut across some of the city’s busiest intersections. About six trains a day ran through the city.

Union Pacific abandoned the track this week after it completed a deal to use a Burlington Northern route on the north end of town. The move eliminates 18 railroad crossings in the city, many of which were not even marked with stop signs.

“The main concern about the trains has always been safety,” Sawyer said. City officials have always worried about derailments, spills of hazardous materials and fire trucks or ambulances being blocked by the trains.

“We always like to stay out of congested areas and keep our operations away from downtowns. In a lot of places we don’t have that option but we did here,” said Union Pacific spokesman Mike Furtney.

“Safety was one issue but so was efficient train operations.”

Former Mayor Sally Cupan started pushing for the relocation in 1977 and every mayor since has fought to get the project completed. It took years of wrangling with the two railroads and the Idaho Transportation Department. The city even secured $2 million in federal funding in 1982 to help pay for the relocation, but it didn’t speed up the process.

“Sometimes you just get bogged down in the bureaucratic system,” Furtney said. “Nobody means it to happen that way and this just took a long time.”

Despite years of delays, Sawyer said, the city is grateful the project is complete.

“Having the trains gone is a very big deal, and the credit belongs to the former mayors and councils,” Sawyer said. “It is only by a luck of the draw that this occurred on my watch.”

The transportation department plans to purchase most of the railroad right-of-way along Division Street. It will likely be turned into a new roadway that links U.S. Highway 2 and U.S. Highway 95 through Sandpoint. That will mean the relocation of some businesses along the corridor.

The new road could help unsnarl some of Sandpoint’s traffic jams but it will not eliminate the need for a Highway 95 bypass around town.

“I doubt this will solve our downtown traffic problem but it will let traffic flow a little easier through the city limits,” Saywer said.

, DataTimes MEMO: Cut in the Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: REMOVAL Union Pacific officials said the now-abandoned tracks will be removed in the spring.

Cut in the Spokane edition

This sidebar appeared with the story: REMOVAL Union Pacific officials said the now-abandoned tracks will be removed in the spring.


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