Wednesday Feb 22 2012
Let's work together on logging truck decision
By: Carol Feineman, Editor
The “elephant in the room” has finally been let out of its cage. That “animal” is the logging trucks traveling on Highways 193 and 65 to and from the Sierra Pacific Industries’ sawmill at 1445 Highway 65 in north Lincoln. And it’s good timing, as the highly-anticipated completion of the Highway 65 bypass is quickly approaching. When the bypass opens this summer, one third to one half of the cars traveling through Highway 65’s downtown portion should be diverted, according to Lincoln’s public-services director Mark Miller last August. Daily average traffic on G Street, in 2004/2005, was about 37,500 vehicles, according to Miller last May. Fast-forward to today: as the Lincoln-area population has increased, so has the number of vehicles on G Street. As of now, anyone driving, walking or biking on G Street (to be called Lincoln Boulevard once the bypass opens) can get stuck at traffic lights between 1st and 5th streets for up to five minutes. It detracts from the downtown visit. But once the bypass is in, according to Miller last May, the downtown traffic-light timing cycles will fall from five minutes to half that time for “a pedestrian-priority mode.” Downtown merchants hope the Highway 65 bypass completion equals more visitors. Some shoppers have said that logging and big-rig trucks do not belong on downtown streets because the trucks create traffic and are also unsafe for visitors. When told that by The News Messenger, Sierra Pacific Industries Spokesman Mark Luster said he knows of only one downtown logging truck accident in the last 15 years. In May, 2010, the city’s $30,000 Gruen Gruen + Associates study of downtown Lincoln report found downtown’s primary disadvantage was “the high speed, through traffic, especially truck traffic, including lumber aggregate trucks, associated with Highway 65 ...” The readers’ comments and my experiences living near other desirable downtowns that only have car and foot traffic sold me on the idea of no logging or big-rig trucks on G and adjacent streets. Then I had lunch recently with Luster, Sierra Pacific Industries’ spokesman and I quickly saw the issue isn’t as simple. Plus it isn’t necessarily “us versus them (Sierra Pacific).” “No one ever” asked Sierra Pacific Industries about rerouting the trucks, Luster said. “This is a new conversation to us that started in January,” Luster said. Luster was referring to an area newspaper column that talked about trucks and tractor-trailer rigs still on G Street after the bypass opens. The sawmill is “flexible” if it’s what the community wants and if it’s safe for both the community and the drivers, Luster repeatedly stressed. “Nobody has approached us until recently,” Luster said. “We’re agreeable to exploring the options.” While some readers suggested that Sierra Pacific drivers use the new bypass and take Wise Road, Luster said that would be unsafe for the truck drivers. There isn’t enough room for the trucks to safely stop there in both directions, according to Luster. As for readers’ suggestions for trucks to take the bypass to Nelson Road, Luster said that brings trucks into another neighborhood. “I’ve driven the different routes,” Luster said. “They all go through different neighborhoods. We need a solution that fits with appropriate infrastructure and a sense of what the community needs.” Mayor Spencer Short might have that solution. He asked city staff at last week’s City Council meeting to “investigate closing the 6th Street railroad crossing.” There’s a possibility that $20 million from Union Pacific and the California Public Utilities Commission could be given to the city for railroad crossing closures. That could allow Gladding Parkway to be constructed, according to Short. Proposed in 2005, Gladding Parkway would have started at 9th Street and East Avenue, loop around Gladding, McBean and tie to the back of Gladding Road near Highway 65 and Sierra Pacific Industries. However, a resident who lives near Carlin Coppin School told me this week that the community seven years ago was against making the proposed Gladding Parkway a truck route. The resident cited “a constant stream of little kids, kids and parents all during the day” around East Avenue, where Gladding Parkway would begin. “We tempted to mitigate all concerns, including trucks and student traffic,” Short said in response to the resident’s comment. Obviously, there is no easy answer on whether and where to reroute trucks from G Street. This has to be carefully researched by city staff and then addressed by City Council with time for the public to respond. “We have to investigate all solutions to determine the best course of action for our community,” Short said. At least the city and Sierra Pacific are investigating possible solutions to the logging truck question. That benefits residents and downtown businesses 100 percent.