The Washington Department of Transportation estimated in June that six proposed coal and oil terminals could add at least 44 more trains per day going through Spokane.
In a letter to BNSF Railway in March asking for the company’s support for a bridge over train tracks at Barker Road, Spokane Valley Mayor Dean Grafos wrote that with the increase in coal and oil rail traffic, “this grade separation becomes even more of a priority.”
The letter added, “Depending on the development of the coal ports and oil terminals currently being proposed along the west coasts of Washington and Oregon,” the number of trains per day “stands to grow rapidly.”But in the city’s application for grant funding for the Barker Road project, there is no mention of crude oil and coal. BNSF, as a condition for supporting the grant application, asked the city to take out those references.
BNSF spokeswoman Courtney Wallace confirmed the company requested a “commodity-neutral” application, noting that rail traffic would increase even without more crude oil shipments.
Spokane Valley City Manager Mike Jackson said the change was a minor edit that would not hurt the application’s chances of winning funding. It also allowed for a strategic compromise with BNSF, which he suspected was hesitant to support an application that “singled out” specific business partners.
Still, Jackson said, the rise of coal and oil traffic is crucial to the political debate.
“You can’t really deny that the increased awareness of the oil and coal will bring some interest to these overpass projects from a legislative perspective,” Jackson said. “There’s not a legislator in the world that’s not aware of that.”