Letter on SB 5613

Brian Blake ( Brian.Blake@leg.wa.gov ):

I urge a do not pass on SB 5613 which creates a loophole in vacating a county road. This bill is poorly written, its statewide effects have not been analyzed, nor does it solve the very local problem it claims to address. This bill, carbon copy of 6152 that failed the last session, has not improved.

In introduction, I am with Washington Water Trails, a volunteer group that advocates for public access to our state’s shorelines through its partnerships with Washington State Parks, DNR and other local parks and jurisdictions. Washington Water Trails is on record for opposing any change in the current long-standing state law regarding street ends.

The following are our concerns:

1. There is lack of data on the problem being addressed. The Senate Bill Report Staff Summary of Public Testimony cites ‘deaths and other huge problems caused by the railroad bridge.’ Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s Rail Safety Crash Statistics show a single trespass fatality in 2012, during the period from 2011 to 2018, at the Lewis River Bridge milepost 119 (https://www.utc.wa.gov/publicSafety/railSafety/Pages/OLCrashStatistics.aspx).

Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety Analysis reports show a total of 12 trespasser fatalities in a 40-year period (1978-2018) in Cowlitz and Clark counties combined (https://safetydata.fra.dot.gov/OfficeofSafety/publicsite/Query/TrespasserByAgeDayTime.aspx).

The rail bridge has been in place over 100 years. The ‘huge problems’ are not documented.

2. The bill’s language is fuzzy. SB 5613 does not define “mainline railroad bridge” nor “public safely hazard.” The bill, as presented, neither outlines what body would make a determination of public safety hazard nor a procedure for State review or public citizen challenge.

3. There has been no analysis on potential effects of this legislative change at the immediate Lewis River railroad bridge area and its Clark and Cowlitz approaches or its effect on public access, public safety and emergency response along the Lewis River from I-5 to the mainstem Columbia River.

Equally important is lack of analysis statewide. One has only to look to a few rail lines – like those running the eastern side of Puget Sound, the Columbia River from Longview to the TriCities and north from Wenatchee, and on the Snake River to ascertain this bill may create problems elsewhere in the state.

4. Vacating a county road is permanent. This bill provides no remedy should such a mainline bridge go unused, if the public safety hazard were to be otherwise mitigated, or there were any change in private property ownership after the road was vacated.

The State has expressed that “the interest of all the people shall be paramount …[and] give preference to uses in the following order of preference which: (1) Recognize and protect the statewide interest over local interest” in the Shoreline Management Act of 1971 (RCW 90.58.020).

Closing the Clark County road will not solve the problem of people trespassing on the train bridge. Cowlitz County’s Dike Road and Kuhnis Road, immediately across the river, provide an easy way to access the bridge and Lewis River.

I urge you to leave RCW 36.87.130 as is and reject SB 5613. RCW 36.87.130 has served state citizens well since 1969, insuring the public’s right to its shorelines and roads.

Thank you for your consideration.

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