North Sonoma County Supervisor Mike McGuire has arranged a meeting next week among key players involved in potential public use of the Northwestern Pacific Railroad bridge that parallels the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge on the Russian River, McGuire said.
Healdsburg leaders are seeking to use the NWP bridge as an alternate route for pedestrians and cyclists when the 91-year-old Healdsburg Memorial Bridge closes next year for repairs.
"We're hoping to have a collaborative conversation to see if the railroad trestle can provide alternative access," McGuire said Saturday. "We're excited to have the conversation."
The meeting is scheduled for the first week in December. The actual date wasn't immediately available, McGuire said.
So far, the talks about using the trestle have been difficult, according to Mike Kirn, Healdsburg Public Works Director.
"I'm not feeling the warm and fuzzy feeling," Kirn told the Healdsburg City Council last week.
Kirn said that Northwestern Pacific Railroad officials told him they are planning to haul freight on the railroad bridge next year -- and that Healdsburg's use of the bridge would interfere with those plans.
Kirn said he also got a negative response from the state Public Utilities Commission. According to Kirn, the PUC feels that allowing people to walk on the trestle would sabotage PUC efforts to discourage people from walking on railroad tracks.
Kirn said the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board, which owns the NWP track, is also involved in the negotiations. It was not immediately clear what SMART's position was on use of the railroad bridge.
"We're looking for a way to get to 'yes,' and all these other agencies are looking for a way to say 'no,'" said City Councilman Jim Wood after Kirn gave his report.
McGuire, however, said the meeting next week will include Mitch Stogner, executive director of the North Coast Railroad Authority. The NCRA governs area railroad activities.
"This is the first conversation we've had with Mr. Stogner," McGuire said.
Other attendees are expected to be Kirn, Healdsburg City Councilman Tom Chambers and Healdsburg City Manager Marjie Pettus. It was not immediately clear if other parties would be invited.
"The Healdsburg Memorial Bridge is going to be shut down for about 1 1/2 years," Chambers said last week. "It's not going to be OK for people to not be able to get from one end to the other."
Car traffic will be able to divert to one of the other exits on the 101 freeway, but cyclists would not be safe on the freeway shoulders since there are neither bike lanes nor dividers, City Council members said.
"I'm not supportive of using 101," said City Councilman Steve Babb, a former Healdsburg Fire Captain. "I've seen cars go careening into the railings on the freeway."
If Healdsburg does get permission to use the NWP bridge, the city would need to build a platform for cyclists and pedestrians, along with improvements at each end and disabled access upgrades, Kirn said.
He estimated the total cost for the platform and other improvements at about $250,000 -- much of which might be eligible for federal and state reimbursement as part of the Kirn said.
The issue of saving the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge has been ongoing for at least the last two years. In September 2010, City Council voted to save it from demolition after a citizens group, Friends of Healdsburg Memorial Bridge, rallied in support of the structure.
Healdsburg civic volunteer Mel Amato led the Friends rally, and won support by challenging the original engineering estimates on the bridge's load-bearing capacity.
A but was postponed to give time for completion of an environmental review and the rehab work.
Over the summer, engineers did test drilling on the bridge, closing it down for two days.