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Spokane County Picks Short-Term Solution To West Plains Transportation Problem

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

West Plains residents want Spokane County to pressure Burlington Northern to help solve a traffic problem in their area. The case revolves around an old bridge, now closed, and the traffic that closure has brought to their neighborhood.

County officials held a sometimes contentious town hall meeting with residents Monday night to talk about what’s next. It wasn’t a comfortable one for county commissioner Al French and the engineers who accompanied him.

“Keep in mind this bridge is the property of Burlington Northern. It does not belong to the county, it belongs to Burlington Northern. They are in the process of replacing it. What we’re trying to do is find a way to deal with it in the meantime," French said.

This saga began in June when Spokane County railroad engineers inspected the Euclid Road Bridge near Airway Heights. They found safety issues and ordered the span closed. Burlington Northern has committed to replacing it, but hasn’t yet committed to anything specific.

Meanwhile, the county set up a traffic detour on Newkirk Road. It’s unpaved, covered with dirt and gravel and isn’t a smooth ride.

The county initially applied oil to keep down the dust, but says that was inadequate. Engineers considered paving a section of road, but say the county can’t afford the $1.3 million cost. So they’re planning an intermediate step. They’ll put stabilize the road for a year or so with a thick layer of gravel at a cost of about $135,000.

Residents complained about the increased volume and speed of traffic on the detour and on adjacent roads. They worry about driving conditions in the winter and the increased travel times for school buses and emergency responders.

Meanwhile, Gary Rogers urged county officials to press the railroad to pay all costs related to detours.

“I know that you’re not going to get what we all need unless you get on them. You get your legal team together. You get your risk management together. You’ve got a letter from the fire department talking about the absolute mess that this has created for us," Rogers said.

French says the county is working with the Air Force and others to put pressure on Burlington Northern.

“That’s why we’re reaching out to our federal delegation to get their help. We’re reaching out to the Pentagon to get their help. I can tell you the conversations I’ve had with the base commander and his staff, they are as energized as we are to put pressure on BNSF to get responsive to this issue because it’s impacting their operation as well," French said.

He says the county hopes to begin stabilizing the road within the next few weeks.  Engineers estimate it will take three to five weeks to get the work done. They’re hoping the weather will cooperate and they’ll be able to finish the job before the snow falls. 

Burlington Northern is a past business supporter of Spokane Public Radio.