City wants rail tracks to take hike - Stretch of BNSF line could become part of City Park if deal approved

Erica Curless
Staff writer
Kathy Plonka - The Spokesman-Review


The city of Coeur d'Alene is working with Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway to remove the short section of railroad tracks that run parallel to Northwest Boulevard between the Mullan crossing and the North Idaho Museum.

Coeur d'Alene hopes Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway will remove its downtown tracks that cross Mullan Road by next summer.

City Attorney Mike Gridley said Coeur d'Alene is close to finalizing an agreement with the railroad company to remove the short section of the tracks that run parallel to Northwest Boulevard between the Mullan crossing and the North Idaho Museum.

"We've had verbal assurance this is something that can happen soon," Gridley said.

The tracks are rarely used, and Gridley can't remember the last time a train crossed Mullan Road. He thinks it might have been in August 2001 when the Western Governor's Association met in town and some rail cars were parked near the museum.

The city wants the tracks removed in time for the June 27 Coeur d'Alene Ironman. The world-class triathlon sets up its headquarters near the tracks. Gridley said the former track area would become part of City Park.

He sees the downtown crossing at the congested Four Corners area as a hazard, because people don't expect trains. That could cause accidents at other crossings with more train traffic, he said.

"A crossing that's not used is actually a dangerous crossing," said Gridley, a former Union Pacific Railroad attorney.

There are no specifics on how much removing the tracks would cost or who would pay.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas wouldn't comment Tuesday on the specifics of the proposed agreement.

"We are studying the corridor into Coeur d'Alene, and we are working on an agreement with the city on the crossing at Mullan Road and the trackage south, which is infrequently used for switching purposes," Melonas said.

Gridley said the railroad also is looking at ways to reconfigure the rest of the tracks that run north from Mullan Road along Northwest Boulevard to Riverstone.

Stimson Lumber Co.'s DeArmond mill uses the tracks. Gridley said one idea is to reduce the number of tracks in that area to eliminate those that aren't being used.

Ideally, Coeur d'Alene wants the entire rail line removed and Stimson relocated so it can create an educational corridor in that area along the Spokane River.

It's unclear how open the railroad is to removing all or part of the tracks in that corridor.

The project would allow University of Idaho, Lewis-Clark State College, Idaho State University and North Idaho College to offer courses in one location. That would means students could get degrees from an associate's to a doctorate without leaving town.

The University of Idaho, NIC, Coeur d'Alene and Lake City Development Corp. signed an agreement in May 2002 to create the corridor.

But before that happens, money is needed to purchase the mill site and move the operation.

Stimson estimates it would need $10million to make relocating the mill feasible.

Ideas for financing the project include land exchanges, tax assistance, NIC Foundation funds, private donations and tax increment financing that would use property taxes.

"A lot of dominoes have to fall in place before it happens," Mayor Sandi Bloem said.

•Erica Curless can be reached at (208) 765-7137 or by e-mail at


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