Friday, February 19, 2016

Railway-highway crossing in the spotlight

A railway-highway grade crossing in Ventura County is a step closer to a major overhaul to enhance safety.

A member of Congress from Southern California, Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Westlake Village, announced $1.5 million has been secured for the proposed Rice Avenue (State Route 1) grade-separation project in Oxnard.

The funding will be used for project design. Brownley supported the grant through the U.S. Department of Transportation's Railroad Safety Grants for the Safe Transportation of Energy Products (STEP) by Rail program.

The location has seen repeated accidents. On Feb. 24, 2015, a Metrolink train hit a truck at the crossing, resulting in the death of the train’s engineer and injuries to more than 30 other people.

“This is the first step in moving the Rice Avenue grade-separation project forward,” Brownley said. “In recent years, we have seen multiple accidents at this busy intersection, including the tragic 2015 Metrolink derailment. This project will not only improve safety at the Rice Avenue rail crossing, but it will also allow the smoother flow of goods from the Port of Hueneme."

The port is the only deepwater harbor between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and Rice Avenue serves as its primary truck route with average daily traffic of 35,000 vehicles.

The proposed project involves a six-lane bridge on Rice Avenue (State Route 1), over the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and State Route 34 (5th Street), located parallel to and just south of the railroad tracks.

The new design will improve safety. Annual train traffic through the project area includes 1,820 Metrolink commuter trains, 3,120 Amtrak intercity trains and 4,368 Union Pacific trains.

“This crossing has been identified by Caltrans as a priority grade-separation location due to the repeated accidents involving trucks and cars being struck by trains,” said Darren Kettle, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

“Due to this corridor’s significant role in freight movement throughout the region, the Ventura County Transportation Commission has nominated Rice Avenue for inclusion in the National Freight Network," Kettle said. "It is because of the safety concerns and efficient freight movement VCTC in partnership with Caltrans applied for this grant.”

“The safe movement of goods and people is priority one,” said Caltrans District 7 Director Carrie Bowen. “This is great news for the farms, port commerce and commuters. We look forward to developing this project.”