Ashland's Transportation Commission directed city planners Thursday to ask Union Pacific if it would allow the city to build a pedestrian crossing over the railroad tracks between Clear Creek Drive and A Street.

Ashland's Transportation Commission directed city planners Thursday to ask Union Pacific if it would allow the city to build a pedestrian crossing over the railroad tracks between Clear Creek Drive and A Street.

The commissioners support a proposal by Railroad District business owners asking the city to build a pedestrian path from Second Street to Clear Creek Drive to encourage more foot traffic and fewer cars, Commission Chairman Eric Heesacker said Friday.

"As a commission, we're the first to agree that we all want pedestrian connectivity in town," he said. "The railroad in that area appears to be a barrier to that connectivity." Ninety business owners and employees, most of whom work on Clear Creek Drive and Hersey Street, signed a petition last month requesting a route over or under the railroad tracks.

"It doesn't have to be fancy and it doesn't have to be an expensive thing," said Janet Rueger, a chiropractor who works on Clear Creek Drive and who created the petition with psychologist Karen McClintock, who shares Rueger's office building. "We just want something simple that allows more people to walk, instead of driving." For the last two years, boxcars have been parked on the tracks, making getting across them an acrobatic challenge. Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad closed the line in 2008 after shippers balked at rate increases, but trains occasionally run on the tracks.

Regardless of the boxcars, walking on the tracks is considered to be trespassing on Union Pacific property and is illegal, said Jim Olson, the city's engineering services manager.

At the Thursday night meeting, the commission asked city planners to explore the possibility of creating a crossing between Clear Creek Drive and either Second or Fourth streets, Heesacker said.

"I don't think we're at a place where we can make a decision except to promote the idea and move forward with the concept," he said.

Creating a crossing at Fourth Street might be more practical in the long run, as property develops in that area, said Jim Olson, the city's engineering services manager. The city's Transportation System Plan, developed in 1998, includes plans for a crossing between Fourth and Clear Creek Drive.

Eventually, the Transportation Commission would like to see a crossing at both locations, Heesacker said.

"We're all for the connections, it's just going to be awhile before it happens, if it happens," he said.

Rueger said she and the others who signed the petition would prefer to have a crossing at Second Street, because it's closer to shops and the downtown core.

"Everybody is always in a hurry and wants to go the fastest way possible," she said. "If the crossing's at Fourth Street, they're going to end up jumping in their car and driving." The commission also directed city planners to get information from the city of Phoenix on railroad crossings, because Phoenix recently worked with Union Pacific to create a crossing.

City officials will also ask people who own property between Clear Creek Drive and A Street if they would be willing to grant an easement for a crossing.

In order to build a path from Clear Creek Drive to Second or Fourth streets, the city would need to secure an easement from Union Pacific and, likely, other nearby private property owners, Olson said.

Union Pacific has been reluctant to grant easements in the past, he said.

Even if the rail company granted the easement, building the route would be a long and probably expensive ordeal, Olson said. Past easement contracts with railroad companies have cost the city as much as $100,000 per mile, he said.

The Transportation and Planning commissions will discuss the potential pedestrian paths at their Jan. 20 joint meeting on the Transportation System Plan update. Neither commission is expected to make a decision on the paths at the meeting, Heesacker said.

"The wheels of government move very slowly," he said. "Folks would like this done yesterday and, gosh, that would be nice, but we're doing what we can."

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.