Trail bridge is worth fighting for

Our Corner

Each long journey begins with one step. That is Foothills Rails-to-Trails jargon for – “you’ve got to start somewhere.”

Buckley Mayor Patricia Johnson did just that recently, spending her own time and money on some early, grassroots lobbying on “the hill” in Washington D.C. She was joined in the nation’s capital by representatives of the National Rails To Trails Conservancy, a powerful lobbying body, in hopes of receiving grant money set aside by Congress for active trails.

Johnson, who is the vice president of the Puyallup-based coalition, said of her odyssey to the East Coast provided the opportunity to “bang the drum long and loud for our cause, which is hooking up all the trails around here.”

She preaches the mindset of burning calories not carbons, of getting commuters out of their cars and riding their bikes, walking, jogging or running to work. Rails To Trails, she emphasizes, dovetails nicely with the national movement toward reducing obesity.

What did Johnson learn during her quick trip to D.C.? If you want people on “the hill” to sign off on something, make it seem like it was their idea. Get them on board with an idea and convince them to adopt a worthy cause and you’re halfway there.

Johnson also learned that if obtaining one of the enormous grants ever does come to fruition, it will not happen overnight. That’s just not how things work in the other Washington. Johnson and others were simply laying the groundwork for their cause and the payoff, she realizes, “may not happen tomorrow, next week, next month or even next year.” But if their brief pitch was absorbed at all, it was worth the effort.

As a realist who looks at concrete facts sometimes through a jaundiced eye, I had to affix my imaginary filter over the telephone receiver when talking to Johnson about her pet project. Anyone looking to have a middle-of-the-road conversation about Rails To Trails is barking up the wrong tree.

But one phase of our conversation simply makes a great deal of sense – to at least connect the Enumclaw and Buckley trails by building a bridge strong enough, and wide enough, across the White River, allowing vehicles to pass over the river in the event of an emergency.

Such an emergency, of course, would mean anything that put the existing, 50-year-old bridge out of commission. A truck driver could miscalculate the height of his rig by a foot or so and crash into the top of the bridge, closing the bridge for days, at least. That nearly happened a few years ago when a piece of heavy equipment smacked the top of the bridge; luckily, no damage was done and the bridge was closed only briefly.

It could be worst next time, forcing a life-threatening alternate route that could add an additional 40 minutes just to get too the other side of the river. In a medical emergency, minutes mean the difference between a heart attack victim living or dying.

It makes sense to have options during emergency scenarios and the feds turning loose with one of those 40 sizable grants would be more than enough to get the job done.