The city of Durango plans to build the Animas River Trail northern extension across the railroad tracks. But is it safe?
That is the question administrative law judge Robert Garvey with the Public Utilities Commission drove from Denver to Durango to answer. The city says the railroad crossing as proposed at 36th Street is safe; longtime north Durango resident Isabelle “Marty” Schueller says it isn’t. Both had an opportunity to argue their case Thursday, and witness testimony will spill into Friday.
City Attorney Dirk Nelson called 15 witnesses and introduced 38 exhibits, providing technical details and expert testimony about how the design of the intersection meets state standards and would improve the crossing. Schueller, representing herself, called five witnesses and filed 15 exhibits with the PUC, offering Judge Garvey slice-of-life evidence from living at the intersection for decades and conditional factors, like snow or the length of vehicles, that make the intersection unsafe.
Garvey heard from eight residents Wednesday, six of whom said it would be hard to miss the train with its whistle, rumble and slow pace.
Janet Wiley said she lives three houses away from the proposed railroad crossing, has participated in the trail-extension process for a decade and admonished those arguing against it.
“It breaks my heart to see a handful of people – one or two people – being so vocal against the bike path,” Wiley said. “This is a benefit to the community.”
Cathy Turner, one of two people who spoke about the danger of the intersection, said she crosses the tracks at 36th Street at least twice a day. She supports the trail extension, but there are blind spots. It is a congested intersection – essentially a three-way crossing and dead-end with mailboxes and garbage cans. And the danger isn’t necessarily to walkers, but rather a hazard for bikers and drivers.
“I agree the bike trail will be great, but using that crossing is dangerous,” Turner said. “There are blind spots, and I have been surprised by that train multiple times.”
A petition to interveneThis week’s PUC hearings are in response to Schueller’s petition, which argued the crossing is too narrow, too busy and, at times, too congested for safe pedestrian crossing. She filed her petition to intervene with the PUC against the city of Durango’s application for the Animas River Trail northern extension to cross the railroad tracks.
The Animas River Trail northern extension is a more than $8 million, 4,600-foot pavement project to extend the pathway from Memorial Park near 32nd Street to Oxbow Park and Preserve, which has been closed indefinitely. City officials have been planning the project for about a decade.
The city of Durango in November sought approval from the state regulatory agency to construct a railroad crossing near the intersection of 36th Street and Silverton Street, according to filings with the PUC.
But just a month later, Schueller filed a petition with the PUC about the safety of a proposed railroad crossing in front of her home, citing issues of visibility, frequency of foot and bicycle traffic, and limited space for vehicles.
Schueller claims in her petition for intervention to the PUC that the railroad crossing poses a number of problems, including:
The intersection is the sole ingress and egress for many to the surrounding neighborhood.The dead-end near the intersection often functions as a turnaround point for large vehicles.Vehicles approaching the intersection must be within 5 feet of the rail to see southbound trains.Drainage is inadequate and causes ice to build up around the intersection.Non-vehicular traffic may increase more than anticipated in the city’s application to the PUC.Adding a trail will narrow Silverton Street and make it more difficult for large vehicles to maneuverer the intersection.Surveying in the application did not match the original title. Judge Garvey will likely take his decision under advisement, said Terry Bote, spokesman for the PUC. The judge could reject the application, accept it or modify its terms. He should submit a recommended decision to the PUC within 30 days of the hearings, Bote said.