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Ashland's Glenn Street railroad crossing to stay open

ASHLAND — The Oregon Department of Transportation has dropped its request that Ashland consider closing the Glenn Street railroad crossing now that train traffic has been drastically reduced on the Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad tracks that run through town.

In the fall, the railroad company closed its line between Eugene and Coos Bay, citing safety reasons and diminished use. The company has raised rates and reduced service on its Siskiyou Line in Southern Oregon, while threatening to stop operations altogether.

Ashland residents testified in November and December 2007 that Glenn Street, which crosses over the railroad tracks, is the quickest route to Ashland Community Hospital and to commuters' jobs in Medford.

Residents also said closing Glenn Street at the crossing would just cause people to drive longer routes past Helman Elementary School and through dangerous intersections.

Residents said closing the Glenn Street crossing would just cause drivers to have to use other railroad crossings in town, leading to no reduction in the number of people traveling over tracks.

ODOT's Rail Division is pushing communities around the state to close some unimproved railroad crossings because of safety and cost concerns.

In December 2007, the Ashland City Council voted to resist ODOT's efforts to close the Glenn Street crossing. They asked city staff to solicit bids for a study to determine the impact closing the crossing would have on traffic.

Earlier this week, Interim Public Works Director Jim Olson recommended the council award a $39,095 contract to HBH Consulting Engineers to study traffic patterns at several intersections in the area. Public Works staff negotiated the bid down from $50,682.

But council members questioned why they should have a study at all in light of ODOT withdrawing its request that the Glenn Street crossing be closed.

Olson said the study would provide valuable information on traffic patterns that could be used for future projects, such as sidewalk improvements on Laurel Street and dealing with the dangerous area where Wimer and Hersey Streets meet up with North Main Street.

If a northbound driver is trying to make a left turn off North Main Street onto Wimer Street while a southbound driver is trying to turn left off North Main Street onto Hersey Street, the drivers block each other.

Olson said the city has asked ODOT for grant money at least three times to help improve the situation, but has always been turned down.

"This will provide us with the valid information we need to get us over the hump when we are in competition with others (for grants)," he said.

Mayor John Morrison said it makes sense to study overall traffic patterns at several intersections in that part of town, rather than narrowing down the scope of the study to just a few problem areas.

"That becomes penny wise and pound foolish," he said.

The council voted unanimously to award the $39,095 contract.

Resident Art Bullock said the impetus for the study — the threatened closure of Glenn Street — was no longer there.

"This is an inappropriate use of the funds. There's a better use for the funds," he said.

Staff writer Vickie Aldous can be reached at 479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.