Back-Seat Driver

City to Union Pacific: We’ll trade you C Street for Ramona Avenue

Union Pacific trains cross streets in cities throughout the West, such as here in Yuba City
Union Pacific trains cross streets in cities throughout the West, such as here in Yuba City

The city of Sacramento and Union Pacific railroad have a strange-bedfellows type of relationship that often frustrates local officials.

The big freight company runs trains through the center of the city daily, blocking traffic on numerous streets, and city officials don’t like it. But federal interstate commerce law allows UP to do as it pleases, and the Omaha-based railroad company clearly isn’t interested in spending hundreds of billions of dollars to reroute rail lines outside town.

When the city asks for something, UP’s initial answer often is a terse no. But the two sides come to mutual agreement at times. A recently completed bit of horsetrading is a case in point.

For several years, the city has been planning to turn an industrial area west of Power Inn Road and south of Folsom Boulevard into a modern business center, hopefully to attract innovative companies in the technology and medical realm who are looking for good space and decent rent.

The Power Inn Alliance and City Councilman Eric Guerra are eager to get the 240-acre Sacramento Center for Innovation launched. But the area is hidden away and hard to enter and exit.

To open it for development, the city plans to extend Ramona Avenue over UP’s tracks northward a few blocks to connect with Folsom Boulevard just south of Sacramento State University. That also would create a shorter, safer route for some Sacramento State students living in apartments near 65th Avenue.

But city officials say UP told them it would only OK the new at-grade street crossing if the city agreed to shut down three other crossings. That stance obviously is self-protection for UP. At-grade crossings are safety hazards for cars and trains. UP wants fewer of them, not more.

After extended talks, though, the city says UP will allow the Ramona crossing in exchange for the city closing just one other street, C Street in midtown. City Public Works Director Jerry Way said the city persuaded UP by agreeing to commit an undetermined amount of money toward improving safety at several other rail crossings in the city. That end of the deal will require further talks between the city and the railroad, he said.

The C Street closure will happen in midtown between 19th and 20th streets next summer when work begins on the Ramona Avenue extension. The C Street closure isn’t without precedent. In the mid-1990s, the city closed a block of C Street at 19th and turned the street over to Blue Diamond Growers to use as part of a deal to keep the company from leaving town.

Not a lot of cars drive on C Street in midtown. But the new closure will make it harder for cyclists to get to the C Street entrance to the American River bike trail, and makes that entrance potentially less safe because it will be more isolated. Cyclists want to extend the bike trail entrance a block south to D Street, but that would require UP to give up a slice of property.

UP officials declined to speak to us about the C Street/Ramona deal, but sent us an email confirming the deal and saying it included safety enhancements at five other crossings.

“We are proud to serve nearly 7,300 communities across our network,” UP wrote, “and honored to have a unique, long-standing relationship with the city of Sacramento.”