PONDERAY — If Union Pacific Railroad officials have their way, Eastgate Crossing will be closed on a date yet to be announced.
In a letter sent late Monday to the city, Union Pacific detailed its plans to close the crossing and requested the city’s stance on the matter. While there is no timeline established for the action, Union Pacific officials contend the closing is a matter of public safety. Nevertheless, some business owners and residents worry the crossing closure could hurt local transportation and commerce.
The letter of intent arrived with a draft agreement for the city to consider. Under the plans, the city would receive $25,000 from Union Pacific, which would also waive all real estate fees across railroad property to establish alternate access to Bonner Mall. Union Pacific would also remove Eastgate’s crossing surface and equipment at its expense. However, Union Pacific officials expect Ponderay to pay for barricades, signs and street markings to close off the crossing.
According to Ponderay Mayor Carol Kunzeman, the crossing’s closure will throw a wrench in the circulation study crafted during 2012 to keep transportation orderly following the opening of the Sand Creek Byway. It’s also not ideal for the town’s ease of navigation, especially when it comes to accessing commercial hot spots like Bonner Mall. However, she agreed with Union Pacific’s assessment that the crossing is unsafe.
“It’s not going to be a good thing (for the city), but if it’s going to save somebody’s life, it’s worth it,” she said.
Others worry about the closing’s impact on emergency response.
For Bonner County Emergency Medical Services, the loss of the crossing should be relatively minor, according to spokesman Bob Abbott. He believes the crossing probably saves EMS less than a minute in response times.
“It would be inconvenient, but probably not fatally so,” he said.
The closure will have a greater effect on Northside Fire District. According to Fire Chief Brad Mitton, it takes about two minutes to respond to the Bonner Mall area with the crossing open. If it closes, he estimates it will probably take about five minutes.
“It’s definitely going to increase (response times),” Mitton said.
Union Pacific’s intention to close the crossing isn’t news to city officials, according to Mayor Carol Kunzeman. City officials were aware that railroad officials have been contemplating the move for several years. At the council’s July 1, 2013, meeting, for instance, members discussed the prospect and how it would impact the city’s circulation study. City officials also expressed hope that Union Pacific would be willing to reopen Diamond Crossing, which was closed in 2000, if Eastgate Crossing were shut down.
According to Kunzeman, the city plans to discuss Union Pacific’s intentions and collect community input at a council meeting set for 6 p.m., Nov. 3.