CPUC and CCJPA Appear to Oppose At-Grade Crossing

Train-SlideCouncil Moves Forward With At-Grade Crossing Application
The Davis City Council moved forward with its at-grade crossing application for the California Public Utilities Commission, after council approved the Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND).

Additional information provided by the city demonstrates that this is a long and uphill process, as the California Public Utilities Commission questions the safety improvement of the at-grade crossing and seems to recommend grade-separated crossing as the solution.

However, City Attorney Harriet Steiner reiterated that the city’s official position is that an at-grade crossing is the most achievable solution that meets the city financial constraints and addresses the needed safety conditions.

She argued that a grade-separate crossing is not achievable due to the high cost of such undertaking, and that it may and probably would require taking out existing housing in order to achieve it.

That said, just as there is a below-grade crossing on the other side of Olive Drive for pedestrians and bicyclists, it may be that with grant funding and the use of redevelopment money this is achievable.

Robert Canning, a member of the public who described himself a train commuter, spoke in favor of the negative declaration, citing the reasonable compromise and the balancing of safety issues that are being proposed.  He urged the council to move forward with it.

Alan Miller, a citizen who has been one of the leading proponents for an at-grade crossing as well as an outspoken critic of Union Pacific’s plans, expressed concern about the inclusion of a quiet zone, arguing that he is personally opposed to them in general and that the railroads hate them as they add complication and expense.

In a written communcation to the city, “I feel the issue of a No-Horn Zone is not advised. The railroads are violently against those zones, and bringing that up will have their attorneys seeing red and will vastly complicate the project.”

He added, “Quiet zones can take years to implement and involve costly mitigation. I am not even sure mitigation is possible at that site, and I personally believe such a zone is ill-advised considering that we are working to increase safety here.”

“If the City wishes to pursue [that] in the future as a separate issue, that is another matter. Specifically what I am concerned about here, today, is the threat that one sentence would have to the entire project,” Mr. Miller warned.  “Do not underestimate how much the railroads are concerned about any no-horn zone.”

In adhering to Mr. Miller’s advise, Cathy Camacho wrote to council that the city has deleted the reference from the document.

A comment letter from the State of California Public Utilities Commission regarding the Mitigated Negative Declaration does not paint a promising picture.

CPUC writes, “Union Pacific Railroad proposes to build an 8′ high 3800 foot long fence. Union Pacific Railroad has not provided any studies or documents showing that there is a safety issue with the existing condition. Nor has Union Pacific addressed safety issues that will be caused by the proposed fence. The Union Pacific fence proposal does not address ways to mitigate its perceived safety concerns that do not create new or additional safety concerns on the railroad tracks and in the tracks. There was no analysis of how train traffic and patterns would affect the safety of your proposed at-grade crossing.”

The-City states “The purpose of the city proposed project is to improve safety by construction [of] an at-grade pedestrian crossing in conjunction with the construction of a fence so pedestrians and bicyclist are guided to a gated and signalized location with automatic gates that close when trains are approaching.”

CPUC staff is of the opinion that a grade-separated pedestrian/bicycle crossing is the safest mitigation measure for this location. They write, “A grade-separated crossing would eliminate all potential conflicts between pedestrians, bicyclist and trains.”

They add, “There, is no substantial evidence in this MND to support the City of Davis proposal for an at-grade pedestrian crossing as opposed to a grade-separated pedestrian crossing, because it is feasible to construct a grade-separated crossing. While the City states that the most logical location for any crossing is in the vicinity of the SP Depot train station, there is no safety analysis provided in the MND to support this proposal.”

CPUC notes that they disagree with the statement “The at-grade crossing in the vicinity of the depot would provide a safe, cost effective crossing for users at this location.”

“While it may be less-expensive, an at-grade crossing does not eliminate all hazards when compared to a grade-separated crossing,” the CPUC adds.

“Additionally, improving the existing pedestrian routes to improve overall safety would appear to be warranted,” they note.  “Numerous persons at the January 11, 2011 City Council meeting expressed concern over the safety along City of Davis streets in the vicinity of Richards Boulevard and the roadway underpass beneath the tracks there. A more widely beneficial project to improve those pedestrian routes should be further examined and analyzed.”

In addition, the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority sent a letter to the city stating, “While the CCJPA was aware the City of Davis was contemplating an at-grade crossing, we had not been consulted regarding the statements that we now see in the mitigated negative declaration.”

They add, “While CCJPA withdrew its funding support for the fence project leaving UPRR to pursue a fence project at their discretion, we believe all parties, including the City of Davis, understand that the existing pedestrian crossing situation is unsafe and that it should be modified to eliminate the unauthorized access of pedestrian traffic across the right-of-way with the yet unresolved question being what design would create a safe pedestrian crossing situation.”

They note, “Any time the public crosses a rail right-of-way at a grade crossing there is a risk of accidents or delays to trains. Incident rates at various grade crossings nationwide vary widely, but the average is not zero. The design and very operations of the proposed at-grade crossings will directly create rail impacts.”

They also come out in support of a grade-separated crossing, “In the opinion of the CCJPA, a grade-separated crossing would in fact be feasible and promote greater pedestrian/bicyclist safety. While implementation of a grade-separated crossing would likely cost more than an at-grade crossing, it would nevertheless be feasible. In fact, on more than one occasion, the CCJPA has offered its support to assist the City of Davis in securing funds for the design and construction of any such grade-separated crossing.”

Alan Miller counters “There is a vast improvement in having an at-grade crossing over the current situation.   The current situation produces one pedestrian/vehicle strike every two years, which would only be partially mitigated by either proposal.”

He adds, “UP’s proposal arguably would create fewer but more dangerous crossings and could increase delays.  There is no way to predict such infrequent occurrences.”

While I have seen designs for at-grade crossings that would be safe for both rail traffic and pedestrians, it is clear that the writing is on the wall with both the CCJPA and CPUC in effect opposing an at-grade crossing, and Union Pacific likely following suit.

The City of Davis is welcome to attempt to gain approval, but the stronger strategy at this point is to probably take up the CCJPA on its offer to attempt to find funding for a below-grade crossing, much like we have on the other side of Richards.

I understand Alan Miller’s concern, “Grade separation is probably not a funded reality of the next decade.”  I just do not see a real alternative with everyone apparently in opposition to an at-grade crossing.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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1 Comment

  1. E Roberts Musser

    [quote]The City of Davis is welcome to attempt to gain approval, but the stronger strategy at this point is to probably take up the CCJPA on its offer to attempt to find funding for a below-grade crossing, much like we have on the other side of Richards.

    I understand Alan Miller’s concern, “Grade separation is probably not a funded reality of the next decade.” I just do not see a real alternative with everyone apparently in opposition to an at-grade crossing.

    I think this is exactly right…

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