Nothing ventured, nothing gained

By Thomas J. Tomberg, Edmonds Fire Chief, Retired | Oct 25, 2012


On October 18, Council voted against including the Main Street Undercrossing (Project 1B) in the 2013-2018 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and Capital Facilities Plan (CFP).

Project 1B provides for construction of a tunnel underneath the railroad tracks at Main Street to serve the ferry and to ensure 24-7 unimpeded public safety emergency access west of the tracks. Project 1B addresses a serious public safety issue and Council should reconsider its exclusion.

The subject of trains blocking grade-level rail crossings has been much discussed.

Although coal train traffic generated the most recent interest, trains of all types and cargos – passenger, freight, hazardous materials – have for decades posed a train-blocking threat to public safety west of the tracks for a well understood reason, in an emergency, minutes and seconds count.

Currently, law enforcement, fire and medical personnel contend with 42 trains passing through town daily. In July a freight train blocked the tracks for 45 minutes.

This month, the Main Street crossing was blocked when a Sounder train clipped a tractor-trailer. By 2030, trains passing through Edmonds are expected to exceed 100.

It is easy to tally the cumulative impact of increased rail traffic, potential for more train-blocking incidents, and the negative effect on delivering emergency services west of the tracks.

Why exclude the undercrossing project from the CIP/CFP? Inclusion does not make 1B a done deal, but does give it potential.

With estimated construction costs of 80 million dollars, inclusion means more study and analysis, and grant funding eligibility; however, to even seek grants, 1B has to be included in both City plans.

The Main Street Undercrossing project is a practical, doable and financially feasible alternative that can be completed in the near term.

The Edmonds Crossing project, the multi-modal (bus-rail-ferry-parking) facility at the old Chevron pier known as Project 1A, remains in both plans as it should.

Unfortunately, 1A is not on the state, WSDOT or WSF radar until, at the earliest, 2030. Estimated costs for 1A were 237 million dollars in 2005.

What will they be by 2030?

Can we afford to wait for something that may happen in 2030? Since summer, the Mayor and staff have worked with the Snohomish County Committee on Transportation and Snohomish County Economic Alliance to identify the Main and Dayton crossing problems as a high priority in the 2013 legislative session.

Absent 1B inclusion in the CIP/CFP, work already done by staff and recent notification of first-cut eligibility for a Freight Mobility Grant are forfeit, and which I understand now had to be withdrawn.

Unimpeded public safety emergency access west of the tracks is needed now, not 18 or 25 years from now.

A reasonable path for further exploration of a doable solution lies before us. After 40 years in the California, Idaho and Washington fire service I know from personal experience what a delay in emergency response can mean, unfortunately, so do you.

What have we to lose by inclusion? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Council should reconsider the October 18 vote, and place the Main Street Undercrossing project in the 2013-2018 CIP/CFP.


Thomas J. Tomberg

Edmonds Fire Chief, Retired



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