Talks between the city of Cleburne and BNSF Railroad continue but city officials appear disinclined to close any of the suggested city streets at railroad crossings.
Cleburne Director of Public Works Jeremy Hutt discussed the matter during Tuesday’s workshop portion of the Cleburne City Council meeting.
BNSF’s Rio Vista to Midway Double Track improvement project calls for adding a second track to their existing right-of-way corridor. To that end, BNSF is interested in closing several grade crossings including four in Cleburne all of which border the city’s east side. Such is a request, not a requirement, on BNSF’s part.
Should the city choose to close none of the streets, BNSF will still install minor upgrades to the crossing points, Hutt said during the council’s May 12 meeting. Should the city decide to close one or more of the crossings BNSF has offered to pay the city $150,000 to $750,000 depending on how many crossings are closed.
Council members, in discussing the proposal over the past several meetings, raised concerns over emergency vehicle response times should any of the crossings be closed as well as the possible negative perception of further isolating east Cleburne and possibly hampering future development of the areas affected.
Although council members have taken no official vote on the proposal they appear at this time to favor, and only slightly at that, the closure of one crossing.
“I think the council’s feeling is that the East Chambers Street crossing is the only one we’d consider closing and we’re not too terribly excited about that,” Mayor Scott Cain said. “They’d have to make a heck of a good deal. So East Chambers is still on the table but it’s hanging by a thread on the table.”
Hutt said BNSF representatives said there may still be room to adjust the offer terms on East Chambers Street but to what degree remains under discussion between the city and the railroad.
“There are no modified proposals to offer at this time,” Hutt said.
Whichever decision council members reach on street closing requests, BNSF’s project will cost Cleburne taxpayers roughly $1.5 million as the city will foot the bill for relocation of city utilities such as water and sewer lines in the railroad’s right-of-way.
“The railroad owns exclusive rights to their section of right-of-way,” Hutt said. “Therefore, we have to accommodate them and relocate at our expense our utilities that cross the railroad if the conflict with their project. So we will have expense to the city to accommodate that project for those utility adjustments.”
Call for unity
Cain called for unity and commitment in light of protests that swept the country following the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin on Memorial Day. Several protests have occurred in Cleburne. All were peaceful and consisted of smaller crowds than those in many of the larger cities. Cain and Cleburne Police Chief Rob Severance joined the participants of one recent protest.
“These are difficult and trying times,” Cain said near the beginning of Tuesday’s council meeting. “I want to thank all of our community for handling the protests in a way that is honoring the Constitution, freedom of speech and moving the needle forward. I want to encourage all of our community to not stop when this becomes old news, but to continue to look for ways to improve our race relations right here in Cleburne. We want to continue to listen and be a part of that and I would like to see Cleburne be a leader in that.”
Cain went on to commend Cleburne police officers.
“We all equally condemn what happened,” Cain said. “But we also need to remember that our officers stand in the line of duty. I was telling Chief Severance that I have a picture of an American flag with a very thin blue line through it though it seems to be thinner today.
“I appreciate our police department and what our officers do. By the way, if you didn’t realize this, in the eight years that Chief Severance and our officers have been working on this crime in Cleburne has reduced by 54 percent I believe is the most recent number.”
The Cleburne Police Department, Cain said, is ahead of the curve in many respects.
“It’s interesting that you see calls for more community policing and getting the police officers more involved in communities,” Cain said. “But our department is already at that point through the introduction of programs like Coffee With A Cop and other programs to initiate [community involvement]. That’s not to say we can’t do a better job not just with our police but with all of us.
Economic Development Manager Grady Easdon updated council members on the All Aboard Cleburne Community Promotion Program, which he summed up as a rousing success.
The program awards one-time $5,000 payments to eligible local businesses who partner with the city and Cleburne Chamber of Commerce to promote Cleburne. Council allocated $300,000, the maximum amount allowable, toward the program. City leaders created the program to assist local businesses affected by temporary closures associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Easdon said the city received 72 applications within a week of the program’s announcement and is now in the process of distributing checks to businesses who were approved.
“I’ve heard from so many business owners how grateful they are for the program,” Easdon said. “A lot of them said this made the difference between being able to stay open and not being able to stay open.”
Cain called upon residents to do their part as well.
“Shop local,” Cain said. “This program was a small shot in the arm for our local businesses, but it doesn’t replace the need for all of us to shop local.”
Council members appointed Councilman Chris Boedeker as mayor pro tem for a two-year term. Boedeker replaces Councilman John Warren who formerly held the position. The mayor pro tem fills in for the mayor in times of his absence.