Avon mayor rallies for railroad crossings
AVON ” In an effort to hang onto one railroad crossing and clear the way for two more, Avon Mayor Ron Wolfe is making an appeal to residents and business owners.
Wolfe wants people to pick up their pens and write to the state Public Utilities Commission, making the case to keep the crossing over the tracks at West Beaver Creek Boulevard and allow two more the town says it needs for a riverside resort.
“We’ve gotten a good response,” Wolfe said Monday, adding that the topic will be addressed at tonight’s town council meeting.
“I think we’ll get an update from the attorney working on this,” he said. “We have several outside experts supporting our town attorney to do the details and arguments.”
What started the controversy between the town and the Union Pacific Railroad was an application the town submitted to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission for the two new crossings. Town officials say Avon needs two new roads over the tracks to access the planned Westin hotel on riverside land known as the Confluence.
The crossing at West Beaver Creek Boulevard is used primarily by people traveling to Avon Elementary School and employees of the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District.
The Union Pacific responded to the town’s new petition by writing their own petition to the Public Utilities Commission, asking the existing crossing be closed by Sept. 12.
The reason they gave was that the closing was necessary to study which crossing would be the best.
Although the railroad stopped regular traffic on the tracks through town in 1996, officials at Union Pacific say they want to keep their options open in the event they want to renew service. If that happens, they say they don’t want three crossings so close together.
Wolfe said the railroad is using the petition to close the existing crossing as leverage to make their case against the proposed new crossings.
“It’s a coercive action,” he said, alluding to another case in the southern Colorado town of Del Norte where the railroad lost. “I think closings are one deal and openings are another. One has nothing to do with the other.”
The current crossing allows West Beaver Creek Boulevard, which parallels I-70 west of town center, to loop south over the tracks and join with Highway 6.
If that crossing were closed, it would likely represent a significant inconvenience ” especially to parents and teachers at Avon Elementary.
“It’s like a train station out there already,” said Rita Sandoval, a teacher at Avon Elementary, which is directly adjacent to the crossing. “I can’t imagine how it would be without that crossing. It’s hard enough to get in and out as it is.”
In addition to the inconvenience, Wolfe said there are public safety issues as well.
“It’s a heavily populated area from the Sunridge condominiums and the school,” he said. “It’s not a good idea to close it, given that density.”
The new crossings are proposed near the town hall on the west and on the east side near where the town planes to build a bus center. If they were disallowed through the efforts of the railroad, Wolfe said it would harm the town economically and physically.
“It’d be great if the town buses could cross there to service the Confluence, and it would be good access for skiers to get there from the new gondola we hope to see built,” he said. “From the economic view, it would be a fragmentation of the town (without the crossings). We want the Confluence clearly and directly linked to the town.”
Another negative, Wolfe said, is that the developer of the Confluence would likely need to create a crossing over Highway 6 with another roundabout. “That’s a hugely greater expense and an unnecessary way to go.”
Wolfe is hoping a volley of letters from Avon residents, business owners and others will help sway the Public Utilities Commission to see it Avon’s way.
“I know the county commissioners are considering a letter,” he said. “And we’ve asked Vail Resorts and Bachelor Gulch to send one as well.”
Avon Town Council meeting begins at 5:30 on Tuesday evening.
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