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The long way around

A good-faith effort to improve a footpath across railroad tracks to a city park forces Phoenix to fence it off and make residents take ...

The city is told the crossing must have &

36;200,000 in flashing lights to qualify as legal

PHOENIX ' With the closing of a popular footpath, residents who once walked a few hundred feet to Colver Road Park will now have to take a mile-long detour.

For Tammy Leuthold, mother of four children, ages 10, 8, 4 and 3, that's bad news.

We've lived here for four years, so we've been going (on the path) a lot, said the 32-year-old. It's about a five-minute walk.

On Monday, the Public Works Department installed a fence and put up notices warning that the path was closed.

The path, which crosses train tracks, is near the end of B Street, in south Phoenix, and is the only eastside access to Colver Road Park, a 5.5-acre facility with horseshoe pits, softball field, basketball court, playground, concession stand and restrooms.

Leuthold says her family sets out regularly for an afternoon in the park.

The kids play on the swing set and the slide and we take a soccer ball to the field, she said, adding that the path and the park are on her husband's running route.

She said she sees many people of all ages from her neighborhood use the path to the park.

It's used a lot, she said. There's a lot of runners, a lot of walkers, there's children. There's a lot of games going on.

But the path crosses train tracks and lacks the proper warning lights.

It's not a legal crossing, said Public Works Director Jim Wear, adding that it would cost the city &

36;200,000 to install the required flashing railroad lights.

The park opened in 1984, and at that time the nearby public works department put in an access road so workers could maintain the park, said Wear.

Soon, area residents began using it, and Wear estimates 30 people use the path daily.

People had to pick up bicycles and strollers to cross the rails, and Wear said his department contacted the Central Oregon Pacific Railroad to get permission to upgrade the crossing.

That's when he learned that he needed to install expensive flashing lights or close the path.

In other words, public works shot itself in the footpath.

The Oregon Department of Transportation Rail Division oversees all public crossings of train tracks in the state. Craig Reiley, manager of the crossing safety section, said ODOT's concern is safety. He said that Phoenix has two options.

They could take action to stop people from crossing the tracks or they could take action to do upgrades, said Reiley.

He said that any public crossing needs an active warning device, and that ODOT and Phoenix are working together to fix the problem. Wear said the city doesn't have &

36;200,000 to spend on a crossing.

John Bullion, train master at Central Oregon Pacific Railroad, said that the footpath in Phoenix is an unusual situation.

Usually the only pedestrian crossing we have will be next to a road crossing, he said.

He said there aren't a lot of train trips through Phoenix ' just the Medford-to-Hornbrook freight and lumber loads.

It's usually two a day but sometimes four a day, he said. He said that even though the trips are infrequent and late at night or early in the morning, the city has a responsibility to make sure the public is alerted to an oncoming train.

In the meantime, neighbors will have to head back up to West First Street and cut over to Colver Road, and head down to the park. Colver Road has a bike path and a narrow shoulder, but there is no sidewalk on the busy road.

Leuthold said she hopes the closure is temporary. I think it would be terrible if it's closed off permanently.

Phoenix city workers Dan Welburn and Matias Mendez fence off a 20-year-old pedestrian path over the Central Oregon Pacific Railroad tracks behind Colver Road on Monday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell - Mail Tribune Bob Pennell