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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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McMorris Rodgers, Valley Council discuss future transportation initiatives

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. (Matt Rourke / AP)
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash. (Matt Rourke / AP)

U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers met with the Spokane Valley City Council on Friday morning to discuss plans and concerns for the city’s future transportation projects.

More than 20 residents attended the meeting at City Hall, where council members thanked McMorris Rodgers for her efforts in helping the city secure a $9 million TIGER grant to help fund the Barker Road grade separation project.

Council members also voiced concerns about potential traffic flow delays from the proposed BNSF double track project, which calls for a 4.4-mile second rail track to be constructed parallel to an existing mainline track running through the city.

The BNSF project includes modification of at-grade and overpass crossings, realignment of existing tracks and construction of a new railroad bridge over the Spokane River, according to documents submitted to the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Construction of the double track project is set to begin in 2019 and could have an impact on five public road crossings: at Barker, Flora, Evergreen, Pines and Sullivan roads.

Councilman Ben Wick said although the city met with BNSF several times about the double track project, railroads typically don’t like to deal with municipalities.

“They don’t even think they need to get a permit from us to do their project,” Wick told McMorris Rodgers. “We need your help.”

An estimated 56 trains per day travel through Spokane Valley on the BNSF rail line, resulting in traffic delays and safety issues at intersections with at-grade crossings.

Wick said BNSF and Union Pacific railroads initially agreed to combine rail lines in initial plans for Bridging the Valley, which aimed to fix at-grade rail crossings along a 42-mile corridor from Athol to Spokane.

Wick said Union Pacific has 59 at-grade crossings along the 42-mile stretch of track and it would save a tremendous amount of money if railroads combined rail lines.

“It means so much to our community to have this corridor combined … we can’t afford to do 59 grade separation projects,” Wick said. “Just the overall scope of it is insurmountable.”

The city discussed federal and state grant funding needs for the proposed $24 million Pines Road grade separation project that would replace an at-grade rail crossing with an underpass at Pines Road and the BNSF tracks.

The city predicts the improved intersection would reduce the risk of collisions between trains and the 16,400 cars per day.

McMorris Rodgers said the federal budget approved this year had increased commitment to infrastructure with more grant funding, and that’s expected to continue during the next session of Congress.

“We know that there’s huge infrastructure needs all across the country. It’s a priority issue right now for the country, for the administration and for Congress,” she said. “We need to start planning now to get ahead of that and spend some time with the transportation committee and the House, so they are reminded of Bridging the Valley and priorities going forward.”

McMorris Rodgers said she’s willing to facilitate discussions with BNSF and Union Pacific railroads, House Transportation Committee staff, and leaders at the U.S. Department of Transportation on behalf of Spokane Valley.

“My goal is to help you accomplish your goals,” McMorris Rodgers said.

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