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M'ville mayor wants to bridge gap if coal trains come through town
MARYSVILLE — Mayor Jon Nehring has a love-hate relationship with the proposal for a new coal terminal in Cherry Point.
What he wouldn't like would be increased train traffic in town. What he would like is federal and state money to build more bridges over the railroad to improve traffic flow with fewer delays waiting for trains.
Nehring said he's been fighting the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal north of Bellingham for 3 1/2 years.
"They were trying to slide that through with no comments," Nehring said.
But he and others met with then-governor Chris Gregoire, who slowed down the process.
"There's so much opposition now" to it going to Ferndale. "It's hard to predict" where it might end up, although he said Longview might be a good choice.
The City Council passed a resolution against the terminal in May of 2012.
A survey published July 24 by the Puget Sound Regional Council showed that a new coal terminal north of Marysville would bring up to 18 new trains per day through town. That would slow down commercial and commuter traffic, emergency response times, and ultimately have an economic impact of $1.65 million per year in Marysville alone, the report says.
"The beauty of this is it brings attention to our railroad problems outside of Snohomish County," Nehring said of the publicity surrounding the survey.
Currently the only routes that bypass the train tracks to get in and out of the city are north and south of town. But if you live, work and/or need business services from 4th to 116th streets, "You have to wait the trains out," the mayor said.
The mayor and council favor on- and off-ramps at Interstate 5 and 4th Street in a $50 million project.
Nehring said increased coal train traffic wouldn't bring much help to Marysville. He said Ferndale would see all of the job growth.
The mayor also said the city will see an increase in train traffic no matter what. The report, prepared by a team of consulting firms, points out that freight rail traffic in Washington by 2035 is expected to grow 130 percent to 238 million tons of cargo, even without the new coal terminal. Rail freight already has increased 81 percent from 1991 to 2012, from 64 to 116 millions tons.
Marysville has 16 at-grade crossings on public streets along the north-south rail line. Long trains frequently create backups in town, often clogging the off-ramps from I-5. Wait times at crossings, which range from a total of 22 minutes to an hour and a half per day, could increase by as much as 147 percent per day within Marysville.
The trains are expected to be about 1.6 miles long. One report Marysville commissioned in 2011 noted that a single long train could simultaneously block all the railroad crossings between First Street and NE 88th Street.
Train noise and vibration, vehicle circulation and access impacts, and safety concerns, along with lower property values, are key concerns about increased railroad usage.
The mayor also said he'd like to city BNSF pay more for mitigation of increased train traffic. Federal law limits its cost to 5 percent, about what Wal Mart paid for traffic mitigation for its new store at Highway 529, the mayor noted.
Seattle-based SSA Marine's Gateway Pacific Terminal project is in the planning stages and isn't expected to be operating at full capacity until 2019.
City leaders in Marysville have studied their rail problems for years and recently hired a consultant to research alternatives to the city's multiple at-grade crossings. The new PSRC report estimates that mitigation projects would cost $50 million to $200 million each. Two environmental impact statements are expected in mid-2015, at which time a public comment period will begin.
If the terminal does end up at Cherry Point, Nehring just wants government to mitigate the impacts.
"Just don't clog our city down," Nehring said.