Jail crew cleans out tunnel

Staff writerSeptember 26, 2013 

Olympia police officers Steve Hurd investigates outside the west end of the train tunnel following recent multiple stabbings in downtown Olympia.

TONY OVERMAN — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Olympia’s Probation Work Crew filled a 20-yard-long trash bin full of everything from old clothes to old drug needles Wednesday, all from the city’s three-block-long train tunnel downtown.

The tunnel that runs beneath Seventh Avenue between Capitol Way and Adams Street “was corner to corner, just end-to-end filled” with debris, said Brian Wilson, the city’s downtown liaison.

Wilson said he was fed up with the trash-filled tunnel that transients frequent, but he had to get approval from multiple parties before going in there. The tunnel is owned by the Burlington Northern railroad but is leased to Tacoma Rail. There are also public and private utilities in the tunnel.

Part of the impetus was a double stabbing last month on Capitol Way near the tunnel.

“I think it kind of just hit this … kind of tinder-keg moment after that stabbing and whatnot,” he said. There was also a human-caused fire recently in one of the utility shafts.

Once he got approvals, crews moved in. The city’s probation crew is made up of inmates of the Olympia jail who are on work release and supervised by a city crew. Completing the job meant using a couple of front-end loaders, including one that was designed to roll on the railroad tracks.

The city also warned people to move cars illegally parked next to the railroad tracks, and put up barriers to keep people from parking there again.

Because the city used a probation crew, Wilson estimated the cost at about $150 to $200, which is the cost of all the barriers.

Wilson said he hopes to make the tunnel cleaning a regular event and to clear out some of the weeds and brush above the tunnel that obscure it.

The tunnel is often used by local street people and has created problems before. In the last several years, the city worked to lock up passageways in the tunnel that homeless people had infiltrated.

In 2010, a 22-year-old transient man lost both arms when a train rolled over him in the tunnel. People who use the tunnel have told The Olympian that there are vents in the tunnel that blow warm air, offering warmth during the cold months.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@ theolympian.com @MattBatcheldor

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