Healdsburg urges use of rail bridge for cyclists, pedestrians

Healdsburg's City Council is urging rail officials to allow an unused railroad bridge over the Russian River to be employed as a temporary bicycle and pedestrian crossing, but the possible resumption of freight train service may derail the proposal.

The City Council on Monday agreed to petition the North Coast Railroad Authority to authorize use of the bridge as a pedestrian and bike detour during next year's rehabilitation of the nearby Healdsburg Avenue bridge.

But Northwestern Pacific Railroad Co., which last year began operating cargo trains in Sonoma, Marin and Napa counties after a 10-year hiatus, is opposed, citing plans to resume freight service to Healdsburg next year.

"The wild card in this whole thing is whether the freight operator will allow this to go forward," Public Works Director Mike Kirn told the City Council.

Some council members expressed skepticism whether freights trains will begin running, given the repairs needed to the railroad bridge.

"When you see the condition of that bridge, it doesn't make a lot of sense," City Councilman Shaun McCaffery said.

But he acknowledged it likely will be "a tough time" trying to obtain use of the span for pedestrians and bicyclists when the Healdsburg Memorial Bridge is out of commission.

"I still feel this is very important. We need to explore every possibility until it's clear there's no alternative," Councilman Tom Chambers said before the meeting.

"The issue is one of access for both pedestrians and cyclists. It's our obligation to do everything we can to find a solution," he said.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit Agency, which owns the tracks and the bridge south of Healdsburg, does not plan to run passenger trains across the river for several more years. City officials said SMART is receptive to allowing the bridge as an alternate pedestrian crossing.

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