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September 01, 2013


Thank you for the kind words!

But there's a strange gulf in understanding on at least one of the central matters, and it is not clear what is so uncertain in ODOT Rail's stance. In multiple documents they've spelled it out quite unambigously!

From the September 28, 2009 staff report on the proposal to close State Street:

"On February 24, 2009, the City submitted a Railroad-Highway Public Crossing Safety Application with ODOT Rail Division for a new at-grade crossing...
"It is the mission of the ODOT Rail Division to eliminate at-grade railroad crossings whenever possible...ODOT Rail Division would not grant a new at-grade crossing without completely closing another existing, nearby, at-grade crossing....In order to secure approval of the new at-grade crossing, the City must either close or grade-separate (go over or under) one of its Riverfront Park rail crossings."

From a February 8, 2013 email from ODOT Rail:

"We are opposed to any new at grade crossings, whether for vehicles or peds."

ODOT Rail has left a pretty clear trail of opposition to new at-grade crossings.

To say otherwise means either 1) ODOT Rail had has a very new and significant change in policy, or 2) ODOT rail is playing Lucy to our Charlie Brown: "sure, knock yourself out, there's nothing stopping you from applying for a new crossing (but we sure as heck won't be approving one!)" The City and developer will like up for another try, and the Rail Division will pull the ball out from under the applicant.

If you have new information about a change in policy, please share it!

Otherwise at least grant to the other side in the debate on this particular matter (including Dick Hughes!) that there are good reasons to think ODOT Rail does not favor a new at-grade crossing and will, at the very least, make it very difficult to get.

(Of course this doesn't alter the larger point: The City and developer should aim higher!)

Could you let us know who wrote the 2013 Rail Division email and what it was in reference to? I have no idea whether the person is talking generally, or specifically about the Pringle Square property. And the City staff report doesn't represent actual Rail Division policy. It represents what city staff said is Rail Division policy. Big difference.

Breakfast on Bikes, here's what I know: I've talked with Claudia Howells, who was the director of the Rail Division before she retired. She says that things have changed at the Rail Division since the "you must close one crossing to get a new one!" days. No new rules, but new staff and seemingly a new attitude.

Claudia suggested that I phone the current manager of the Crossing Safety Section, Rick Shankle, which I did. He confirmed what Claudia told me: there is nothing in statute or rule that requires the closing of one crossing if another one is opened. Whether or not this is required depends on the specific situation.

Claudia also told me that decisions of the Rail Division are appealable. One would expect this. Most decisions by government agencies are. If an applicant or affected party doesn't like the decision, it can be appealed, first I believe to a hearings officer. Then to the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.

It is impossible to tell whether a new RR crossing application for the Pringle Square property would be approved unless an application is submitted. Rick told me that no one from the City of the Salem or the developer's team has talked with him about a new crossing. Why? We can only hazard guesses.

Since the developer wants to vacate the right of way to a previously approved crossing in the vicinity of Trade Street, I suspect that this fits with the "my way or the highway" attitude of the developer. The developer doesn't want to consider alternatives to taking over part of the Carousel parking lot.

Here's the interesting thing, though: to get a 6(f) conversion application for Riverfront Park approved by the National Park Service, the City will have to demonstrate that it has considered other viable alternatives to the proposed private use. So if the City ignores the obvious alternative of applying for a new RR crossing on the Pringle Square property, opponents of the conversion application will have strong grounds for demanding its denial.

You and others theorize about what could happen after an RR crossing application is submitted to the Rail Division. Only way to tell whose theory is most true is to conduct an experiment: submit an application for a new crossing.

Final thought: information from other states (such as Virginia) about the 6 (f) conversion process indicates that this can take a year or so. Since the takeover of the Carousel parking lot is so controversial, one can assume that the review and comment period of the City's application will be contentious and lengthy.

So applying to the state for a new RR crossing almost certainly would take less time than applying to the National Park Service for a 6 (f) conversion from public to private land which has no guarantee (or even a high probability) of being approved.

There is a misconception that approval of the developer's Carousel access proposal on September 9 would allow construction to start on the property. Not true. The developer could start construction, but good luck with getting a construction loan without approved access to the property. Which, again, could take up to year before it is known whether the NPS approves or denies the conversion application. Of course, appeals could follow.

Thanks for the additional info. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Rick Shankle is cc:'d on the Feb 8, 2013 email that said "We are opposed to any new at grade crossings, whether for vehicles or peds." Has he stepped forward with a clarification or correction in writing to the City? Maybe there is a change at ODOT Rail, but it could be also that in informal conversation they're just telling us what we want to hear. At any rate, what you have been saying about the length of time a 6(f) conversion application would take seems reasonable, and Council should weight that appropriately. Thanks again!

Breakfast on Bikes, I edited my comment after it was first published. Maybe you responded before seeing the new first paragraph (below). Am still interested in knowing who wrote the email, and what it referred to. Without that info, it is difficult to give the email much credence.
Could you let us know who wrote the 2013 Rail Division email and what it was in reference to? I have no idea whether the person is talking generally, or specifically about the Pringle Square property. And the City staff report doesn't represent actual Rail Division policy. It represents what city staff said is Rail Division policy. Big difference.

It's in this post, the third image down -

Thanks. I noticed that image when I read the post, but didn't click on it. Much appreciated.

Thank you for presenting a wide spectrum of issues surrounding the Pringle Square development, access proposal and alternative access ideas. While the ODOT Rail Division may control permit and permit renewal for right-of-way RR crossing no new crossings are being considered. Both Bellevue and Ferry Street public right-of-ways remain established road ways on Salem zoning documents. Both of these access points shown in the breakfastonbikes site could provide access to the residential development area without the city granting an easement through the River Front parking lot at State Street.

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