The City of Kirkland plans to move forward with the Cross Kirkland Corridor’s rail removal as early as April, but a Snohomish advocacy group and a Kirkland business owner want the city to put the brakes on the project.
“It is a precious corridor for both trails and rails,” said Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak, a member of 40 within the Eastside TRailway Alliance. “We have concerns that once the rails are taken out, they won’t go back in.”
Guzak believes that the Eastside TRailway Alliance and King County rail owners share the same long-term goals but there is some “pushback in the details.”
The Eastside TRailway Alliance has been working with Doug Engle, who is a partner with the Eastside Rail Community. The new company that started last December currently runs freight from Snohomish to Woodinville in Everett. But Engle has aspirations of commuter service to help get “around the I-405 parking lot” and a weekend excursion train from Snohomish to Woodinville and, eventually, Kirkland.
Before Engle’s excursion train becomes reality, however, Snohomish County would need to secure $6.2 million in state funds for railway upgrade between Snohomish and Woodinville. If granted, the project could be complete by May 2014.
It’s this business opportunity that prompted Engle to consider Kirkland as a part of his future venture.
“We think that obviously Kirkland has a lot of cool things, it’s a little Laguna Beach in the summer,” said Engle, who is temporarily living in California but owns a home in Kirkland. “I’m sure we’d have a lot of tourists who would want to come to Kirkland as well.”
Engle’s Bounty of Washington: Tasting Train would connect those who want to experience Washington’s wine, craft brew and spirits, and other local food from various farmers’ markets in the summer.
Engle sent a letter to the City of Kirkland on Feb. 22 proposing the city build a trail next to the Cross Kirkland Corridor’s railway, instead of directly on the rail bed. He estimates it will only cost $2.9 million - a cost that saves the city hundreds of thousands from its already-secured $3.6 million. Engle said he can provide a 15-foot wide trail, 15 feet from the railway and it would keep the railway intact.
“We are admittedly late into Kirkland’s process and we appreciate that, but at the same time, if the rails are taken out, only 3 percent of the time have the rails gone back in,” Engle said, noting the cost to put them back in could be up to $10 million. “Once they’re out, they’re out.”
Transportation manager David Godfrey said the vision for Kirkland’s corridor is to make the corridor available to the public as quickly as possible.
While having a trail next to the rail was an option, Godfrey said, it’s a “very expensive” option because there “wouldn’t be a place to put the trail” and eventually “somebody is going to have to upgrade the rails and, so far, nobody has come forward with a business plan.” He adds there’s been ample opportunity for a business to come forward, as well.
“My sense is after we remove the rail and people begin to use the trail and realize what a fantastic asset it is, the region will recognize having a trail is great,” Godfrey said.
Mayor Joan McBride said while the city’s interest statement for the long-term includes multi-use, including rail service, the city “has a really good interim plan” and if the city were to put a trail next to the railway, it could have serious environmental impacts.
“I think it’s great that Doug Engle and his group are working with ideas, but the idea that we can build a trail alongside those railroad tracks without doing a full environmental review is a concern for me,” said McBride. “We have precious wetlands (that run alongside the corridor).”
McBride recently met with Guzak to discuss the option of waiting, but ultimately, McBride is “not sure why there’s a sense of urgency.”
“We’re not hurting any sort of rail company in the future by removing them,” McBride said. “They’re unusable.”
McBride said the master plan process will be very open and “Doug Engle and his folks are welcome to provide input.”
The master plan includes the analysis of a future regional paved trail and transit pathway of the city-owned 5.75 mile stretch of railway. The master plan is funded by the parks levy, which voters approved in November 2012, and the city is currently in the process of finding a consultant.
“When you come across an asset such as the Cross Kirkland Corridor, you want to be careful and thoughtful about the planning,” McBride said. “What we plan today and tomorrow will be with us for a century.”
Engle plans to have a meeting with the city during the week of March 11