Council hits road blocks in attempt to address tunnel

Hunter Herbaugh
Sunday, October 18, 2020
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The underground pedestrian tunnel was the topic of discussion again at the City Street Committee on Wednesday as the committee continues narrowing down their options on how to address the tunnel’s condition. Trying to find a solution has proven difficult as the tunnel is owned by BNSF, which prevents the city from maintaining the structure themselves.

In previous conversations regarding the tunnel, city council members were informed that the tunnel is considered a “low priority” item by the BNSF Structures Department. This sparked an idea of potentially trusting the responsibility of maintaining the tunnel to the Greater Glendive Community Foundation, if they were interested and could get the blessing of BNSF to do so.

Unfortunately, at Wednesday’s meeting, the committee was informed that the GGCF is not interested in being tasked with maintaining the tunnel, according to Mayor Jerry Jimison. With that option ruled out, the committee has to move forward with one of two options; request BNSF perform maintenance or request the closure of the tunnel.

The drive to do something about the tunnel’s condition was started by Councilwoman Betsey Hedrick, as she has noted the conditions in the tunnel have deteriorated to a point where some people are feeling unsafe while using it. This is due to the extensive graffiti on the walls, the constant bad smell, dim lighting, poor drainage resulting in water pooling and reports of transient individuals hanging out down there.

Councilman Gerald Reichert raised questions of how much of an interest BNSF actually has in the community. With safe routes across the railroad tracks being few and far between, he noted that he wants to have a clear understanding of how BNSF feels about the tunnel, saying the city should apply pressure to get them to commit to one solution or another.

“I’m not objecting to doing it but I would like a little more clarity from Burlington Northern if they have any interest in our community, which I don’t know if they do, it’s questionable, but I’d like a little bit more pressure from the city as to whether they have an interest or need for the underpass,” Reichert said.

Councilman Mike Dryden requested the city get a written, on record response from BNSF stating their intentions.

Aside from wanting clarity on BNSF’s interest in the structure, the committee members also noted that there are plenty of members of the community that utilize the tunnel. Councilman Rhett Coon noted that many students utilize the tunnel while walking to school. Students have also been known to cross the tracks at the old crossing across the street from the high school, however that has not been a designated crossing since BNSF closed it off decades ago. Entering that area is considered trespassing and Dryden pointed out that the committee has no intention of seeking to re-establish that area as a crossing either.

Committee Chairwoman Avis Anderson noted that the tunnel has served the community for a long time but it does need to be fixed.

“To me, it serves a purpose but it has to be fixed up and it has to be usable and be not so smelly and graffiti and dripping water,” Anderson said.

Hedrick, who is not a member of the Street Committee but was present at the meeting, echoed the committee’s sentiment that the city be more forward about getting a commitment from BNSF to do something about the tunnel, with requesting its closure being a last resort.

“It would be nice for it to be open, last resort close it. Is there any way that the city, with the mayor and maybe even the attorney or the council members, draft a letter and give them some options instead of just saying give us a statement? I really think we should be a little more aggressive about it and put something together that’s a little more formal,” Hedrick said.

Anderson agreed to work with Hedrick to come up with a request that can be sent to BNSF. The committee is also still open to receiving public comment on the matter.

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