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Court upholds Kennewick railroad crossing plan

The Tri-City Railroad has lost its bid to compel the city of Kennewick to build a bridge or tunnel across its tracks when it connects Center Parkway to Tapteal Drive.

In a decision published Wednesday, the Washington Court of Appeals said plans for an at-grade crossing were appropriate.

The cities of Kennewick and Richland want to extend Center Parkway to Tapteal Drive in Richland so it becomes a through street rather than a dead end at a roundabout near Columbia Center mall.

The extension has to cross two active tracks that constitute the Tri-City Railroad spur that links to the Port of Benton. Though Washington law prefers that roads cross over or under tracks, Kennewick and Richland concluded that would be impractical. The railroad disagreed, saying at-grade crossings are dangerous and that the Center Parkway extension would be disruptive to the railroad.

The proposed extension has been part of the Regional Transportation Plan since 2006 and is considered essential to improving emergency response times and relieving traffic congestion near the Kennewick-Richland border.

The proposed crossing will include crossing arms and other accident-prevention measures, including signs, flashing lights and an audible bell. There will be a raised median strip to prevent drivers from going around gates when they are lowered.

An Administrative Law Judge originally agreed with the railroad but the decision was overturned by the three-member Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. The decision was affirmed by Benton County Superior Court Judge Bruce Spanner in December 2014.

The railroad appealed that decision.

The court cited relatively low traffic volumes for both vehicles and trains in its decision.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to reflect that the decision came from the Court of Appeals.

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