Sunday, July 25, 2021

July Velo News


This is the new Chehalis Western Trail route under the BNSF RR near Rainier Road.  It actually opened last year but I’ve never thanked Thurston County for constructing it and recognized the vast improvement it represents.   Prior to this underpass, the trail was interrupted by the high RR embankment, turned left and paralleled the railroad for about 200 meters on a somewhat improved gravel surface out to Rainier Road where it made a hard right onto a narrow walkway under a trestle.  Two bikes could not easily pass in opposite directions under the trestle and just before the walkway rejoined the Rainier Road shoulder utility pole cut the walkway space in half.   Following the traffic lane under the trestle meant sharing a narrow underpass with traffic on a sometimes busy road.   Not a good option.  About a quarter mile down Rainier Road from the trestle, the trail climbed back up to its paved route.  BNSF rebuilt the trestle a few years ago and widened the bike and pedestrian underpass but you still had to ride out to Rainier road. In wet weather you also had to dodge or ride through mud in places. The new underpass eliminates all that.


The new underpass removed the last major obstacle on the the CWT.   When I first began cycling in Olympia in 2008 the trail only bridged Interstate 5 and Yelm HIghway; pedestrians and cyclists still had to cross arterial streets at Martin Way and Pacific Avenue.  The latter was especially bothersome since the safest crossing was at a very slow traffic light about 50 meters from the trail. Martin Way at least had a well-marked crosswalk and good sight distance for gauging oncoming traffic.  The Martin Way overpass was constructed in 2010 and the Pacific Avenue overpass was constructed four years later.  Those two projects eliminated the worst barriers. The narrow path under the tracks at Rainier Road remained although it was more nuisance than danger.  Now even that is no more. 


So thanks to Thurston County Parks and Public Works departments and whoever else made these improvements possible.


Strangely enough, now that I don’t have to ride out to Rainier Road I do so regularly.  I got used to riding out to the road during the new underpass construction so a couple of months ago I just followed Rainer Road for a few miles to 89th Avenue where I could pick up the trail and make a bit of a loop.  It turned out to be a decent enough route:  busy but not intensely so and an adequate shoulder.   The route provides some elevation change, not much but definitely more than the CWT following a RR grade. The landscape is mostly open fields with two Christmas tree farms, pasture and older exurbs. Just north of 89th Avenue is a place that sells concrete landscaping stuff. 


Two weeks ago I continued on Rainier Road south of 89th Avenue about a mile to Steadman Road which intersects the trail farther south to see what that was like. Rainier Road was much the same for the mile to Steadman Road. Steadman Road is pretty but has no shoulder whatsoever. Traffic was light when I rode through but I would not enjoy riding in busier traffic. 


That, however, may be my only option soon. The County announced that the CWT will close south of 89th Avenue in July for construction of improved fish passage in Spurgeon Creek.  The existing culverts restrict salmon from reaching spawning grounds and the state is under court order to remove those barriers in order to protect Native American treaty rights to salmon.  Culverts on Latigo Road which parallels the trail across the creek will also be replaced although tat least one lane of the road will be open to traffic.  The County regrets the closure but says that summer is the only time to construct the project without disturbing spawning season.  But they are unwilling to recommend the Rainier-Steadman route as an alternative since not all trail users are experienced cycling or walking on narrow county roads.  I think Latigo Road might offer a shorter alternative but that involves routing users through a construction zone and the County is loathe to recommend that either.


The project is under way now although the trail was still open Friday. A crew was setting up diversion pipes for the creek and had installed a silt filter downstream of the project. Two guys were hauling sandbags over the trail embankment. One guy climbed most of the way up the east side of the embankment and handed a sand bag off to a second guy who went over the top, across the trail and tossed the bag to the other side. I assume they will place them in some purposeful manner since the pile looked pretty random to me. 


The closure will be a bit of a nuisance but I can live with it. I have other routes to ride and can handle the Rainier-Steadman detour if I want to go south of 89th Avenue.  In the end, the salmon get to spawn and the trail gets an 88-foot bridge over the creek and a scenic overlook that offers a good view of a large wetland adjacent to the Deschutes River.