Jan 17, 2023 11:33 PM

Fair Weather Key To Opening Jefferson Street Crossing Within Four Weeks

Posted Jan 17, 2023 11:33 PM

 Note: This story has been updated with the following photo:

Work began on Monday to cut away curbing near the railroad crossing in the 800 block of Jefferson Street. The work is being completed in order to expedite the opening of the railroad crossing. BNSF Railway closed the crossing citing safety concerns. Photo/Jeff Abell

By William Smith

The railroad crossing at the 800 block of Jefferson Street could reopen within a month if the weather stays mild.

Nick MacGregor, assistant city manager for public works, said the plan is to cut back the curb at the crossing. 

Once the work is done, the crossing will be back to its former configuration — before it was narrowed by TIGER grant-funded construction on Jefferson Street. That will allow the city to reopen the crossing without disrupting the quiet zone, which bars passing trains from blowing their horns.

If the city were to open the crossing now, before the work is done, the quiet zone would end.

MacGregor said BNSF contacted him just before Christmas, offering to put in temporary crossing arm pole bases instead of narrowing the crossing. That temporary solution would have taken three months or longer, however, and the crossing has been closed since June 2022.

MacGregor and Burlington Mayor Jon Billups have been adamant about getting the crossing reopened since it was closed six months ago. The closure has been a continuing source of contention between BNSF and the city.

Unexpected obstacle

The move to close the crossing in June came as an unpleasant shock to MacGregor and the city. 

BNSF said the crossing “no longer conformed to proper safety standards due to the changes with the curb,” but never mentioned there would be a problem while participating in two years of design meetings with city officials before that.

“We started design coordination with them back in January of 2020,” MacGregor said.

Leo Foley, Project Engineer at Veenstra and Kimm — which is overseeing the TIGER grant redevelopment of downtown Burlington — was just as shocked. He expressed his frustrations with BNSF Railway during a city council meeting in September.

“We had our plans approved by the railroad as well as the DOT (Department of Transportation)  railroad department, and everything was looking good,” Foley said. “Now they’re saying they would like to replace these with brand new signals. We’re saying no, that wasn’t part of our project, it shouldn’t be a city cost. We’re going back and forth.”

BNSF wanted the city to pay for new signal lights before reopening the crossing. The city said the railroad should pay, noting that BNSF approved the construction around the railroad tracks without mention of new signals.

Finding the money

Thanks to the US Federal Highway Administration and Federal Rail Administration, neither side has to pony up for the cost of new signalization.

In October, the Burlington city council approved a $500,000 amendment to the TIGER grant during a special city council meeting Monday night, Oct. 10. The grant, which came from the highway and rail administration, is to be used to improve and adjust the closed railroad crossing at the 800 block of Jefferson Street. Those permanent changes, which are not related to the short-term solution BNSF offered before Christmas, could have taken up to 18 months. The crossing would have stayed closed the entire time.