There's debate over a proposal to close a railroad crossing in Frenchtown. Missoula County said it's dangerous.
Thursday night members of the Frenchtown community met to listen to a county presentation on the Beckwith crossing. After the meeting, two residents told NBC Montana that 65 people attended the meeting and 63 raised their hands when asked if the crossing should remain open. The final consensus at the meeting is to submit the community's desire to keep the crossing open to appear on a county commissioner meeting agenda.
Montana Rail Link said its recommendation to close is based upon a high-frequency of incidents and public safety concerns. But much of the community supports it as an essential traffic route, and says unsafe conditions have been exaggerated.
It's generating a good deal of controversy, and was a major item at the West Valley Community Council meeting Thursday evening.
The crossing is located at the Beckwith-Mullan Road intersection on the west end of Frenchtown. It leads to the King Ranch Golf Course.
"It comes to a fairly quick curve," said Public Works Director Greg Robertson.
Given the number of repairs the county has made over the years, Robertson said the county considers it a high accident location, especially for hit-and-runs.
"It's not unsafe if maneuvered properly," said Robertson, "but some of the accidents that have occurred involved alcohol impairment, late night."
One Frenchtown man said in 30 years there's never been a fatality at the crossing or a train-car or train-pedestrian accident.
Frenchtown's rural fire chief, Joe Calnan, said accidents might be reduced at Beckwith with more warning signs.
The tracks do divide the community geographically. If rural fire's primary access downtown is blocked, the Beckwith-Mullan Crossing is its secondary access.
"If its closed," said Calnan, "our secondary access or secondary crossing will be another 3 miles down at Houle Creek."
The chief said that adds miles and precious time to calls. He worries about traffic bottlenecks on Mullan, especially during school hours.
"It would definitely be negative," said Calnan," I'm not sure how substantial, but it would definitely impact it."
Laura Howell worries about excess traffic too. "More homes going in and so the more exits the better off they will be," said the Frenchtown resident.
She lives near the tracks and is concerned about accidents. But she doesn't think it would be a good idea to close the crossing.
MRL told the county if Beckwith is shuttered, the railroad would keep the Butler Creek crossing off Highway 93 north, near the Industrial Park open. It's the Butler Creek crossing that's officially slated for closure, not Beckwith in Frenchtown.
Missoula County is obligated to close Butler to meet environmental standards, agreed upon when it built the industrial park. If it stays open, the Butler Creek crossing would need significant safety upgrades. The county said MRL would help improve it.