Busy Railroad Crossing Gets Initial Funding to Eliminate Vehicle Delays
MECCA – Riverside County now has funding to complete design and engineering of a grade separation at Avenue 66 and the Union Pacific line in Mecca. The project will construct an overpass that will eliminate delays caused by passing trains.
“Each day, more than 70 lengthy trains shipping goods from West Coast ports pass through the eastern Coachella Valley en route to other states,” said Supervisor John J. Benoit. “By allowing vehicles, especially trucks carrying agricultural products, to flow continuously, this project will help with the local effects from this freight movement.”
Parallel to State Highway 86S, a NAFTA freight corridor, the Avenue 66 Grade Separation Project is a top-tier transportation project. At this railroad crossing, gates are down for an average of 74 minutes per day, which is projected to double by 2030 if the grade separation is not constructed. Diverting traffic around this crossing will greatly improve rail safety, response times by emergency vehicles and air quality associated with idling vehicles.
Funding to complete the preliminary plans and environmental clearance phase comes from a $950,000 earmark in the Omnibus Appropriations Act of 2009 and $350,000 in federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds, approved by the Riverside County Transportation Commission on Sept. 14. This adds to the local share totaling $1 million from the Coachella Valley Association of Governments and County of Riverside.
The Avenue 66 Grade Separation Project is expected to have the environmental document prepared by mid-2012.
“This funding is a first step towards making this estimated $33.5 million project shovel-ready,” said Supervisor Benoit. “Recognizing the importance of this project, we intend to work diligently to find funding to complete it as soon as possible.”
Countywide, in 2008, there were 61 at-grade crossings at the main lines of Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroads. The Riverside County Transportation Commission’s Grade Separation Funding Strategy identified twenty priority crossings, of which: three have already been completed (Columbia, Avenue 48/Dillon Road, Jurupa Avenue), eight are fully-funded, five crossings are partially-funded and the remaining seven have obtained limited funding.
Included among the priority projects are grade separations at Avenue 52 and Avenue 56/Airport Boulevard. The Avenue 52 project is scheduled to start right of way acquisition in February 2012, with construction in November 2013 and completion in early 2015. Avenue 56/Airport Boulevard is scheduled to begin construction in early 2013.
As a state legislator representing the City of Riverside, which alone has 26 at-grade crossings, Benoit authored two laws facilitating grade separations. AB 453 (Statutes of 2005) extended the amount of time a city or county has to begin construction on a grade separation project, reducing the risk of losing critical project funding. AB 2630 (Statutes of 2006) removed the 10-year ban that prohibited an agency from applying for grade separation funding if that agency has already received more than $5 million for a prior project.