Archive for Thursday, September 14, 2000

Council in midst of a quandry over railroad issue

September 14, 2000

Amtrak officials told the DeSoto City Council last Thursday they planned to start an operation that would bring 25 semi trucks to the city everyday.

City council members had concerns about the increased truck traffic, but found there was little they could do about Amtrak's plan. As city attorney Patrick Reavey explained, federal law exempts railroads from local planning and zoning authority.

Amtrak representatives Gregg Baxter and Tracy Davis said Amtrak has chosen DeSoto as the site for a mail-and-package service link. They said about 25 semi-trucks a day would enter or leave Amtrak's yard just off 82nd Street near the Kansas River. The trucks would enter DeSoto via Kill Creek Road, turn right at 83rd Street and then turn left on 82nd Street to access the company's complex.

There, the trailers holding as much as 45,000 pounds of U.S. Postal Service and United Parcel Service packaging will be placed on dollies and hooked to the back of an Amtrak passenger train during a 54-minute midnight stop in DeSoto. At 6 a.m., empty trailers will be unloaded from an eastbound passenger train.

Residents along the route should already be aware of the increased truck traffic because Amtrak officials said the operation was to start Monday.

What concerned council members most was the prospect of slow truck traffic on busy, hilly 83rd Street.

"I think we have a real issue with 83rd," Council member Tim Maniez said. "When traffic comes over that hill

See Railroad, Page 2A

(from the east), and big trucks pull out people are not used to them being there."

Amtrak is aware of the hazard and has taken steps to reduce the chance of accidents, Baxter said. Drivers have been instructed to remain on the route and to never attempt what would be a difficult and slow turn east on 83rd from 82nd, he said. In addition, Amtrak has cut brush at the intersection of 82nd and 83rd streets to improve sight lines, he said.

At the suggestion of the city, Amtrak has also agreed to buy a flashing caution light to warn traffic from the east of the trucks' presence, Baxter said.

However, the city had to place a temporary flashing light to the east before Amtrak started its operation Monday, despite the fact that city zoning and planning coordinator Jane Gordanier sent Davis an invoice estimating the price of for the light a month ago.

City Attorney Patrick Reavey said the light issue illustrated the problems the city was having with Amtrak.

"I think that's the whole issue," he said. "You guys to start before the council gets a chance to address safety issues."

Reavey and Gordanier said they tried repeatedly to get Amtrak officials to make a presentation to the council on its plans. The only way they could get that scheduled was to withhold Amtrak's permit requests to bring water and electrical power to the site.

After he learned of the federal exemption, Reavey said he realized there was little to be discussed.

However, Reavey said it is his opinion the council could pass and enforce a truck route regulating traffic into the Amtrak complex should safety become a problem. Amtrak's position, which was restated by Davis at the meeting, is that a truck route would be interference with interstate commerce and, therefore, unenforceable under federal law.

In addition to safety questions, council members expressed concern that the additional truck traffic would increase the city's maintenance bill for the roads on the route.

Increasing the concern over maintenance costs is the fact that the city will receive little benefit from the Amtrak operation other than the four local jobs it will bring, said City Administrator Gerald Cooper.

While Amtrak said it wouldn't enter into an agreement to help with the maintenance of 83rd Street and Kill Creek Road, it would help maintain 82nd Street. In fact, Davis said the company was "prepared to buy the road."

Council member Duke Neeland declined that offer. Although he said Amtrak will be the heaviest user of the street, other city residents do use it and the city may need to provide emergency services.

Bowing to the federal exemption, the council instructed city staff to approve the water and power permits and to negotiate a maintenance agreement for 82nd Street.

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