September 28, 2021

Thayer review bridge options

As overpasses are intended to get people and goods to another spot, Union County and the city of Thayer are still waiting to find to a solution for a possible new overpass in the town. And what BNSF desires isn’t fully known yet either.

Considering the other options, it’s possible Thayer and county officials may want to hear from more people who use the crossings in Thayer in a public hearing. The entire issue was discussed Monday during the Union County Board of Supervisors meeting.

BNSF has suggested replacing the Fifth Avenue overpass in Thayer. The railroad would then give the new overpass back to either the town or county for maintenance. County Engineer Keith Wieland suspected the railroad would then close an at-grade crossing in the county to further minimize its liability. At-grade crossing is when traffic actually drives over the tracks.

“Without that bridge and without that crossing it’s at least six and half minutes around,” said Thayer Mayor Jennifer Mitchell about using other roads in the area to get from U.S. Highway 34 to Thayer. Mitchell favors having some form of access into Thayer for emergency services.

“We want access to our town if the at-grade access is blocked,” she said.

Proposals are to replace the overpass on Fifth Avenue or build an overpass for Third Avenue or Fourth Avenue. The Fifth Avenue overpass has a limit of 8 tons. Mitchell said a new overpass would make it more accessible to larger, heavier emergency service vehicles.

“They fund it, they turn it over to us. Or we fund 80 to 90 percent of it and they keep it,” Wieland said about BNSF comparing Union County’s issue to a similar situation in another county. The original agreement between Thayer and the railroad about the Fifth Avenue overpass can’t be located.

Third Avenue in Thayer is a farm-to-market road which is maintained by the county. Building an overpass on Third Avenue would be a challenge in multiple ways since the northbound approach to the crossing is on an incline. To meet requirements for a railroad overpass, those in attendance said the grade would be rather steep. The overpass would probably stretch from closer to U.S. Highway 34 and extend much further into Thayer.

“That’s a huge hill,” Mitchell said.

Properties on each of the overpass would be impacted.

Wieland said an overpass on Fourth Avenue would also need substantial work to extend the street and consider the regulations knowing the difference in elevations between the tracks and the surface of the street. Wieland said he has preliminary concepts from Calhoun Burns, a West Des Moines engineering firm, but cost estimates were not available.

Another option, which Wieland said is not viable would build a new road west of Thayer where there is no rail crossing, that intersects with Highway 34, leading into the town.

“Your ideal situation is to work out a cooperation with them as to what they are willing to do, fits their needs the best,” said Union County Attorney Shen O’Toole. “Private landowners can make demands for a crossing. Your not getting a bridge, necessarily. You can demand they have some crossing, it just may not be a bridge. They don’t want to have a bridge, but you need that as an important access to the community. They don’t have an obligation to give you a bridge. They have an obligation to give you a crossing.”

Wieland listed all of the crossings in the county including average daily traffic, distance from other crossing for emergency purposes and other information. The list includes Cromwell Road, Clover, Park, New York, South Elm, South Cedar, Osage Street, Iris, Jaguar, 190th, Redwood, Tulip, the two in Thayer and Clarke-Union county line. The county is not responsible for all listed roads and rail crossings.

Wieland’s research showed Tulip and Jaguar would be ideal to close, mainly because of low traffic counts. Closing Jaguar would have the longest travel distance for emergency services, not knowing specifically what other routes services would use instead. That is a concern for Wieland.

“If we together somehow decide to close Third Avenue, that Fifth Avenue bridge would be our bridge,” Wieland said about relocating the farm to market road in Thayer.

“A bridge is ideal, but I think moving a farm to market road is a lot of money,” Mitchell said.

Wieland said many of the intersections and road surfaces on Fifth Avenue would have to be greatly improved in Thayer to meet farm to market regulations.

“We’d have to make them bigger,” he said about making the road accessible by grain trucks, combines and other farm equipment.

Wieland said it’s possible the county could take the lead in the construction of a new overpass in Thayer with the railroad.

“It’s not something we could do,” Mitchell said about Thayer having any authority with overpass construction. In previous meetings, Mitchell said Thayer does not have a budget to fund future overpass maintenance and inspections.

“The question becomes the farm to market road. It just doesn’t impact the people in the city of Thayer,” she said. Daily traffic count is about 150 vehicles a day, which Mitchell said is much more than just Thayer residents.

“How do we make this work for the city? How do we make this work for the county?” Mitchell said.

“I don’t know what direction we want to go right now,” said Supervisor Ron Riley.

Wieland will consider scheduling a public hearing for Thayer residents, and those who drive through the town, to offer their opinion and input.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.