San Francisco and Coeur d’Alene have little in common, but Richard Le Francis sees one similarity that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Le Francis can see them in his vision for the streets of Coeur d’Alene.
“I’ve thought about it for years,” said Le Francis, a self-employed Coeur d’Alene businessman. “We’re fortunate to have our tracks in place. Once they get rid of the tracks, they’re gone.”
The tracks he has in mind run from the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course under Mullan Avenue, past City Hall and across the grounds of The Coeur d’Alene Resort, by the Museum of North Idaho and into the Idaho Forest Industries sawmill by North Idaho College.
Put a self-propelled trolley car on those tracks and “it’s a functional way to get across town and it’s relatively cheap,” Le Francis said. He’s already found a vintage trolley car in Wisconsin that would fit the bill, “but I’m kind of putting the cart before the horse,” he admitted.
The trolley would be a tourist attraction, but also a way for NIC to save on parking space. Students who can’t afford to live near the college could catch the trolley to class from the other end of town.
Guests at the Resort could choose a trolley or a boat to travel back and forth to the golf course. People could use it to reach Lake Coeur d’Alene Parkway to go inline-skating, walking or bicycling.
“It’s starting to pick up steam,” Le Francis said of his idea.
He’s hoping to gather enough steam through a grassroots effort to keep the city from tearing out the tracks. That’s scheduled to happen in the year 2000 along Mullan Avenue, said City Engineer Gordon Dobler.
“We’ll be reconstructing Mullan Avenue and the tracks will be ripped out at that time and Front (Avenue) will be torn out a year or two after that,” Dobler said.
To realize his vision, Le Francis has to stop the bulldozers from tearing out the tracks - and that’s just the beginning of the hurdles trolley supporters will face.
“It would cost a lot of money to get those tracks operational,” Dobler said. When fixing potholes, city crews have noticed that the ties are rotting under the pavement.
The tracks were most recently used in the mid-80s, when the Potlatch mill was still in operation. Hagadone Corp. purchased the mill and built the golf course there.
Another obstacle that could derail the trolley vision is sorting out the ownership and legal issues that come with the tracks. The ownership of the property underlying the tracks is a patchwork of Burlington Northern, the city’s and IFI’s.
Negotiations would have to take place with all owners, as well as the Idaho Public Utilities Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission. Who will run and operate the trolley also is an open question.
All that can be worked out later, Le Francis said.
“My immediate goal is the tracks,” he said. “Now’s the time to move on this, otherwise it’ll all be cut up and gone.”
If that happens, residents may regret the loss, he warned. Who knows when the next energy crisis will arise, or other factors force a demand for public transit?
In the long run, Le Francis would like to see a light-rail system connecting Coeur d’Alene and Spokane, just as electric trains did at the last turn of the century.
“The city was built by rail. The entire region was built by rail,” he said. “If you look 50 or 100 years in the future … we might kick ourselves in the tail for not having preserved these right of ways.”
An informational meeting on the trolley car proposal is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 12 at the Harding Family Center, 411 N. 15th St. in Coeur d’Alene.
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