Umatilla County commissioners gave their support Wednesday to closing one perilous railroad crossing near Hermiston and improving safety at another. But any firm plan to reroute traffic is months away, and the public will get to have its say on the topic.
Oregon Department of Transportation safety officials told commissioners at their Wednesday morning meeting the crossing at Ott Road just east of the Hermiston city limits is too dangerous to keep open, and the Canal Road crossing a short distance away needs train signals and crossing guards to be safe.
County employee Stan McCall died Dec. 15, 2011, at the Canal Road crossing when a train struck the grader he was operating. A second train-versus-grader crash happened Sept. 25 this year at the railroad crossing on Ott Road. No one was injured in that collision.
Dave Lanning, ODOT crossing safety specialist, said trains have struck vehicles and people five times in five years at the Canal Road crossing. The transportation department set up a video camera May 30-31 at the site and found 395 vehicles drove through the crossing, including five school buses and four trains.
“We found a very high percentage of vehicles that do not stop,” Lanning added.
The agency videoed the Ott Road crossing June 4-5 and found three school buses, two cyclists and seven trains were among the 68 vehicles that crossed there.
Rick Shankle, ODOT manager of crossing safety, said the agency has $2.1 million in federal funds to pay for four safety improvement projects a year, and the Ott and Canal crossings would be one of those projects. Rather than hire a contractor, Shankle said the county road department could do the engineering work to close the Ott Road crossing.
Commissioner-elect Bill Elfering lives near the Ott Road crossing. He said closing it would impose difficulty on residents south of the road. Tom Fellows, county public works director, said residents in the area have told county workers they favor closing the crossing. Board of Commissioners Chairman Larry Givens said he has had close calls there, which also is problematic because of a tricky intersection with Loop Road.
Fellows said creating an overpass would be the best solution, but that’s beyond the budget of the county or this project.
Commissioner Dennis Doherty of Hermiston pushed for a public hearing on the closing when county has a plan.
The improvements to the Canal Road crossing are simpler, officials said, and once complete the railroad would maintain the crossing for the duration of their existence. Terrel Anderson, Union Pacific Railroad industry and public projects manager, said maintaining a crossing costs about $4,000-$5,000 a year.
• Commissioners also approved rate increases for Sanitary Disposal, Inc., and its transfer station. Company President Mike Jewett said the company needs a 10.3 percent increase for trash collection and an 8 percent hike on solid waste disposal rates at the transfer station. Under the proposal, a 90-gallon container would increase from $15.35 a month to $17.10 a month. About 80 percent of the company’s customers use that size of container, he said, and the last increase was in 2008. At the transfer station, the minimum fee would increase from $5 to $5.40 and from $55 a ton to $57.40 a ton.
Jewett said increased fuel costs and a decrease in recycling revenue are driving the need for higher rates, which he aims to implement Jan. 1, 2013.
Sanitary Disposal serves Hermiston, Umatilla, Echo, Stanfield, Irrigon, Boardman, Ione, Morrow County, the west end of Umatilla County and southern Benton County in Washington. Umatilla County commissioners voted 3-0 for the increases, joining Hermiston, which approved the new rates Oct. 22.
Contact Phil Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0833.
This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.