Rail study: Bypass Albany?

Albany Station, a hub for rail, bus and taxi connections in the mid-valley.

Some years ago Albany Station was renovated and expanded at considerable public expense, more than $10 million if memory serves, and it's been getting steady use. Now there's a chance it might be sidetracked in the planning for improved passenger rail service between Portland and Eugene.

The Oregon Passenger Rail Leadership Council meets in Salem on Dec. 11 to review alternatives for an improved passenger rail route up and down the Willamette Valley. The current route follows the Union Pacific main line, which goes through Albany. The trains of the Amtrak Cascades and Coast Starlight stop at Albany Station. So do several local and regional bus lines. Albany Mayor Sharon Konopa, a member of the leadership council reviewing the route alternatives, reports that it is still the goal of some to bypass Albany. This would run the route through Corvallis instead.

The main alternatives under discussion are to keep using the Union Pacific route or follow the route of the old Oregon Electric line, which runs down the valley west of the UP. Some also want to run passenger rail down the middle of Interstate 5. That doesn't sound all that practical, frankly, but all three of those routes run through Albany now, so it's hard to see how any sensible alternative could bypass the good old Hub City, so-called because last century rail lines radiated from it like the spokes of a wheel.

The goal of all this planning, supported by ODOT Rail and Governor Kitzhaber, is to prepare to ask for huge federal grants to build up Willamette Valley passenger rail into something resembling high-speed service. The cost would run into the billions of dollars, according to a previous study, so it's unlikely that anything actually comes of it. Meanwhile, let's appreciate the rail service and fine station facilities we have. (hh)

Alb-Cor path: Worth the effort

North Albany segments of the planned Albany-Corvallis path are shown on this map prepared by Albany's city staff.

It's taking a lot of time and money to carry out plans for a bike path between Albany and Corvallis. Is it worth all this effort and public cash? That depends on your point of view. As for me, I wish it was not costing as much and could get done more quickly and simply, but yes, I do think it's worth the effort and expense.

The plan, originally pushed by Benton County Commissioner Linda Modrell and others more than a decade ago, was to build a bike path alongside what was the former Southern Pacific railroad track between Albany and Corvallis, a segment of the so-called Toledo Branch. Now the line is owned by the Union Pacific and operated under a long-term lease by the Portland & Western.

An alignment of the path has been mapped out, and some construction has taken place on the Corvallis end. On the Albany side, the city council has just agreed to apply to the Oregon Transportation Department for up to $2 million to construct three segments of the path in North Albany. It would follow West Thornton Lake Drive, then cut south across the rail line, follow the track east until eventually connecting with the bike lanes on Hickory Street, and then head downtown on Spring Hill Drive and the Lyon Street Bridge.

The overall vision is to allow bike riders to travel the 10 miles between Albany and Corvallis on a route separated from the heavy traffic and freeway speeds on Highway 20. You can bet that once the path is built, it will be used by more and more people on two wheels. The benefits in terms of health, exercise, fuel savings and pollution reduction will accumulate over time. I just hope the thing gets built while the people pushing for it, including me, are still alive. (hh)

Outside IP’s shuttered Albany Mill

Three years after it was shut down, the work of dismantling the former Albany Mill of International Paper continues, albeit slowly, judging from a cursory look from outside the site on Salem Road on an uncharacteristically sunny December afternoon.

Albany news: City lowers ‘restriping’ fee

A view of Albany City Hall.

Starting now, city permits to "restripe" a parking lot in Albany will cost a less in most cases. Reacting to business complaints, the city council Wednesday passed a resolution lowering the price of a restriping permit to $75 for parking lots with up to five spaces designated for the disabled -- so-called accessible spaces. The previous fees had ranged upward of $300 per lot, depending on size, which was said in some cases to exceed the cost of painting the stripes.

The state building code requires at least one accessible space in even the smallest lots, the council was told. Accessible spaces must be configured a certain way so that disabled people, especially people in wheelchairs, can use them. When a parking lot is built and striped the first time, the layout is covered by the building permit. Not all cities require a permit for restriping those lots later on. Albany does because, in the words of City Manager Wes Hare, it has a responsibility under the federal Americans with Disability Act (ADA) to administer federal accessibility requirements. He said the city also wants to do more than pay mere lip service to meeting the needs of disabled people when they frequent local stores.

For larger parking lots, so big they are required to have six or more accessible spaces, the new restriping permit fee is $75 plus $70 an hour for inspections, with a minimum of three hours. A city building inspector recently spent almost a whole day on problems at a large store's parking lot that had been restriped wrong, the council was told, but the store was not identified. (hh)

Sixty degrees: So?

A mild fall in the mid-valley so far, but not everywhere, such as, for instance, Britain..

Piers Morgan, the Briton who does an interview program on CNN, had two men on the show to debate issues involved in climate change. It was not a helpful segment. The two guests talked over each other, which seems to be the rule on cable talk shows, where manners don't count. Then the host wound it up by saying that tonight -- it was Tuesday night, Dec. 4 -- it was 60 degrees in Washington, which evidently is where his show originates. That sounded as though it was meant to make some kind of point. Sixty degrees on a December night, wow, if that's not warming, what is? He ought to be glad he's not back home. There, the Daily Mail reported on Wednesday morning: "The Big Freeze that heralded the start of December is set to continue, with sleet, snow and hail covering much of the country all week. The cold snap will persist, with temperatures dropping to a lower-than-average minus-8C in Scotland ... and up to 10 cm of snow expected."

So while it was mild in the mid-Atlantic states -- and in the Pacific Northwest too -- it was bitter cold in the British Isles. What does that say about the climate, or about climate change? Nothing at all. It just means that the weather is milder or more severe than usual in different parts of the world.

Around here, though, we have been wading through puddles and mud as we often do this time of year. Nothing unusual about that. When the weather is unusual, it says nothing about climate change. It just means that weather is rarely average. It varies, and that sounds like a pretty good definition of weather in the temperate zones of the world. (hh)

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