The city of Tukwila versus the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway: Round one

In the short time I have spent getting to know the town of Tukwila, it has become clear this is an intriguing community with a complex history and many stories to tell.

In the short time I have spent getting to know the town of Tukwila, it has become clear this is an intriguing community with a complex history and many stories to tell.

A city staff member described the Tukwila to me as a city of more than 125,000 people during the weekdays and 19,000 at night.

It is a tale of two cities, and although the commercial development side of the coin is one of the most significant components to Tukwila, it is still a town of people. Folks and families living in homes with hopes and dreams.

The Monday, May 9 City Council meeting presented an interesting example of the intersection of issues Tukwila officials and residents face.

Mayor Jim Haggerton spoke to the council members and public in attendance about a letter he sent to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

The letter addresses the proposed expansion of the railroad company’s South Seattle Intermodal Facility and the impact on Tukwila and the Allentown neighborhood.

The letter from Haggerton is very pointed and gets right to it, discussing the proposed rerouting of truck traffic from the facility, “off of South 124th Street enabled by constructing a new bridge across the Duwamish River into a more industrialized street of Tukwila, but you offered no funding or participation to help accomplish this, even if the city would consider that option.”

Haggerton stated in the letter that BNSF expects “others” to pay for all the transportation improvements.

This looks like it is lining up to be quite a scuffle.

There is a lot more to this story that will develop over the next weeks and months, but the essence of the issue is a dispute over land use.

The city contends it has the right to enforce land-use regulations within its city limits and BNSF states it has federal preemptive authority to override the city’s regulations and requirements.

This is an old-fashioned land war right here in Tukwila.

Haggerton said by phone Tuesday the city was in for an uphill battle because the preemptive authority was established by the U.S. Congress in the 1800s. Tukwila will be asking our senators and congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. to help.

The mayor sees it as a protecting the Allentown neighborhood.

“Our comp plan said we would do all we could to maintain and protect the residential neighborhoods,” Haggerton said.

The City Council will be considering a resolution asking the U.S. Congress to step into the fight.

BNSF will certainly put pressure on from its side to maintain the railroad’s preemptive authority.

This will be an interesting wrestling match with plenty of history about railroads and land wars.

Stay tuned, this is the stuff that cities are made on.


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