Ashland neighbors object to Glenn Street closure

ASHLAND — Upset residents around Ashland's Glenn Street entrance to Hwy. 99 Tuesday night were nearly unanimous in their opposition to a plan to follow the Oregon Department of Transportation rail division's wish to close that street because it considers the nearby rail crossing dangerous.

The proposal by the rail division is part of efforts to clean up and increase safety at several of Ashland's train crossings and gain "credits" and funding from ODOT on some of the more expensive revamps. ODOT studies have found the Glenn St. crossing is steep, with limited sight lines and potential to physically impede cars. However, many residents disputed these claims.

Resident Ed McCurry said he was "outraged" because only two trains a day use the crossing and they are being given precedence over the nearly 1,000 vehicles that cross the tracks daily. He and others said that this traffic would have to use Laurel St., which is narrower and has no sidewalks, forcing people to walk in the street.

"How much is it worth to save a life? The taxpayers of Ashland say no," he told the council at a well-attended public hearing. The council members postponed discussion and a vote until their Dec. 4 meeting.

Resident John Wiczorek brought up environmental concerns, saying it would mean more energy use and greenhouse gas emissions for residents to use alternate routes on Laurel — or down Helman, introducing more traffic around Helman School, as motorists head toward Eagle Mill Rd.

"It will cause more driving and pollution and the financial incentives from ODOT don't make up for it," he said.

"We deserve the convenience of the direct route," said Caroline Hoffer.

Some support for the closure came from Jim Olson of the Ashland public works department, who said ODOT has pledged almost full financial support for the Oak St. rail crossing revamping, which would cost nearly $300,000 Such support is often conditioned on the city complying with ODOT's wishes on other crossings — and Olson said ODOT had the power to force compliance, regardless of the city's wishes.

"We're talking about the inconvenience of 900 people for the sake of two trains a day," said resident John Semple. "It's about money. I've never seen an accident there — and you're going to spend money for a turnaround there (where Glenn would be barricaded). Get real."

Gail Patton told the council, "It would mean more cars on fewer roads. There's no danger on Glenn because it (the curve and up-down grade) slows cars down. It sounds like they're trying to bribe Ashland to close it at the expense of Ashland people."

Several people who've lived in the area for decades said Glenn St., as the direct route to Ashland Community Hospital, enabled them to get fast medical care in emergencies, and that keeping the most direct route served a city goal of connectivity.

Olson said the change would increase trips on Laurel from 1,600 a day now to almost 2,600.

Attendance and tempers at the meeting were fanned by leaflets handed out in the neighborhood over the weekend charging that Laurel Street could be closed along with Glenn. However, City Administrator Martha Bennett countered e-mails on the "Communication with the Council" list Tuesday morning, saying the Laurel closing was an option proposed by ODOT but never under consideration by the city.

Olson said the revamp of the bumpy intersection of Laurel and Hersey streets, diagonally carved by tracks that stick out above the grade, would be undertaken soon, at city expense, and would end up with crossing gates and a two-way stop, not four as it has now. The city eventually plans crossings of the tracks with an extension of 4th Street and also on Normal, which now dead-ends in private land.

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