Jeez, Louise!

Residents voice concerns over plan to close street

Miner Photo/LORIN McLAIN
Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jim Chapman (left) and Public Works Director Jack Kramer examine a map of the area around the Louise Avenue closing Wednesday night.

Miner Photo/LORIN McLAIN Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jim Chapman (left) and Public Works Director Jack Kramer examine a map of the area around the Louise Avenue closing Wednesday night.

KINGMAN ­ City Council will not make a decision on Louise Avenue until Monday's scheduled council hearing, City Manager Paul Beecher said at Wednesday night's open forum, where public comments were heard on the conditional closing of Louise at the railroad crossing as part of the Airway underpass project.

About 70 people attended the public information/discussion meeting at Hualapai Elementary School, where city staff and railroad representatives took questions from concerned residents about the pending closure.

The railroad is requiring the city to close the crossing as a condition for the project.

Beecher admitted that the city could have done a better job in getting information out to the public regarding the project, however, there were "extenuated circumstances" tied to making decisions because of recent cooperation from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and from property owners in East Kingman willing to commit funding to the project.

"The council hasn't made the decision to close Louise yet," Beecher said.

Burlington Northern Manager of Public Projects Colleen Deines said the Federal Railroad Administration began a safety initiative to close down rail crossings ten years ago, leading the railroad to close a number of rail crossings in recent years.

Rail crossing incidents have dropped 64 percent since the initiative was proposed in 1994, Deines said.

Since 2000, 2,800 crossings have closed, she added.

City Public Works Director Jack Kramer mentioned a few changes planned in response to the closure.

Improvements the city has planned include: Eastern Street and Hualapai Mountain Road speed limits, acquisition of right-of-way to widen northbound Eastern Street (from Airfield Avenue north), adding traffic signals on Hualapai Mountain Road and the addition of a second protected left turn lane at the Andy Devine and Hualapai Mountain Road intersection.

Beecher said Louise Avenue is only intended to be a residential street.

"The majority of the neighborhood would probably like to go back to it being a neighborhood street," he said.

Answering a resident's concern of how long it would take for the underpass project to be completed, Beecher said October in a best-case scenario, next June at the latest.

Deines said because of commerce traffic, the railroad needed to schedule its share of the undertaking in two 12-hour windows for each track, and one 8-hour window for each track, which can only be done during a holiday weekend.

"What we're accomplishing is nothing," shouted one resident.

"You're taking all the traffic from one place and pushing it to one end. We're taking one step forward and two steps back."

Another resident said Louise has always had a lot of traffic.

A number of residents were concerned about added congestion to Hualapai Mountain Road and Stockton Hill Road as a result.

"Three accidents in 10 years? We have three in a day," one resident said, comparing accident statistics of the crossing to those at the Andy Devine and Hualapai Mountain Road intersection.

Burlington Northern Project Engineer Mike McCallister said the railroad wanted what was best for communities, but he indicated that rail commerce will only become more frequent, and more cars in the future will aggravate the situation.

"Propaganda," shouted a resident.

Beecher asked those in attendance to think about the statistics.

"Louise is not designed to handle 8,000 cars a day. Hualapai Mountain Road is," adding that more accidents occur at Louise and Andy Devine Avenue than at Hualapai Mountain Road and Andy Devine Avenue."

"There's half the accidents," he said.

"The area will double in five years, and Louise can't handle that."

A resident asked why the city didn't consider an underpass at Louise before Airway.

Kramer said City Council decided on Airway 10 years ago because the Louise corridor didn't have the capacity to handle east-west traffic.

Kramer added that other projects in the city's pipeline, such as widening Hualapai Mountain Road from Fripps Ranch Road to Seneca Street, construction of the Rattlesnake Wash interchange, and a future boulevard going to Hualapai Mountain Road from the Rancho Santa Fe area, would help to ease congestion.