Clarke County engineer David Carroll held a public information meeting on Nov. 20 for the purposes of gathering community input on two railroad bridges and one crossing owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).
Currently, one of the bridges is closed while the other two locations are still open. All three are in need of repair, however it is likely that BNSF will only do repairs or replacements if the county assumes ownership of the crossings afterwards. As of right now, the county cannot make any repairs to property owned by BNSF. Should the county assume jurisdiction, then they could maintain and repair as necessary.
110th Ave. - bridge
The railroad bridge located just west of R15 and .03 miles north of Kansas St. at Murray has been closed for two years. The bridge is not on a farm-to-market road.
A member of the Murray Volunteer Fire Department spoke against a permanent closure of the bridge, stating that with it closed now, it is a long way around to get to anywhere in the event of an emergency.
“That bridge, ever since it’s been out, we can’t cross it anyway, it’s just a long ways to go to get to that part of the county,” said the VFD member.
The road is also an area of concern during periods of snow as the road north drifts in, and the bridge is the only way for some of the residents. For farming landowners nearby, the closure of the bridge means they have to add more time, fuel and mileage to their day.
“If I want to get to land that’s on my other side, I [have] to go clear around [to] either the highway, or go back into Murray and go clear back around,” said one landowner.
In looking at replacing the bridge, Carroll said he’d prefer to see a DOT-approved bridge, however the earthwork would likely be more costly than the bridge itself.
“My personal opinion on it is, if anything, it should be an at-grade crossing as opposed to a bridge,” said Carroll, stating the cost-effectiveness options would weigh into that.
There would still be quite a bit of earthwork to cut the already steep hill down, but would be far less than trying to raise the sides up to meet the standards of a new bridge.
Kansas Street - crossing
A BNSF crossing which is currently open and used is on Kansas Street, located approximately 1.3 miles west of 180th Ave. on Kansas St; this is not a farm-to-market road. Carroll said the railroad is aware of a couple of incidents that have occurred on Kansas Street, and they would prefer to close all crossings. In that case, barricades would be placed on either side of the crossing, creating a dead-end scenario for the dirt road it runs through.
For one landowner, it would leave her landlocked. For another, it would create issues getting to farm ground.
“It would be a big burden to have that closed, to be able to have to go clear around an entire section,” said a landowner, who farms on both sides of the crossing and uses it several times a day.
There is also a concern that by making both ends dead-end, it will increase unwanted partying due to the lack of thru-travel. Closing of the crossing would also be of concern to the Murray Fire Department, who can use the dirt road in an emergency situation to get somewhere more quickly.
288th Ave. - bridge
The bridge located on 288th Ave. about half a mile south of Highway 34 was the third BNSF owned property discussed at the meeting. A farm-to-market road, the bridge is used multiple times a day by residents and farmers alike.
Questions were raised about the integrity of the bridge as it currently stands, and who is responsible for it. Carroll explained that as the bridge is owned by the railroad, they are. With the high volume of travel on 288th, it was suggested that the road should probably be hard-surfaced as opposed to gravel, and the mention of weight limits being a hindrance to bridge travel.
Similar to the bridge outside of Murray, Carroll said he’d like to see the bridge on 288th replaced with a DOT standard bridge. He didn’t know for certain, but thought that if BNSF was willing to replace the bridge, they’d turn the jurisdiction over to the county. As such, Carroll would request a 30′-wide, two-lane bridge.
If the bridge were to be closed, those who have farm ground in between the bridge and an underpass a little further down 288th will have issues with getting equipment and loads in and out when the dirt roads are wet - in addition to the bridge’s weight limits, and the underpass has height limits. Closure would leave more people landlocked.
On the safety side, it was pointed out that it was safer for most drivers to either go over or under the railroads as opposed to across them, as well as it also being a more direct route to the highway for emergency services.
An additional concern in regards to the 288th bridge was that the railroad has a switch on 270th, and the trains often sit for long periods of time, hindering travel. Some said the trains sit for longer than 45 minutes, and if that’s the only way in or out, it could create an issue not just for travel, but for emergencies as well.
On the topic of incentives from the railroad for the county to close crossings, Carroll said it is only about $15,000 for a dirt road crossing. When asked about the pros and cons of taking ownership of any crossing or bridge, Carroll said the pros far outweigh the cons, with the biggest con being the added maintenance, and the eventual need for replacement, though with bridges it would be many years.
“None of us want to see any of these closed…Dave’s trying to be proactive…we know it is a problem, we know it’s heavily traveled…We know we can’t shut [288th] down at all. But can’t have it sitting there like the one west of Murray for two years, either,” said supervisor Dean Robins.
The county will not prioritize salting a bridge on a gravel road unless they have to, but will blade it, if they own the bridge.
Though nothing is in the works yet, possible detours were discussed should the bridge at 288th either be closed or reconstructed. The most probable route would see travelers going east to Woodburn and then north to Highway 34, as a detour cannot go down dirt roads, and travel and weight limits for existing gravel roads have to be taken into consideration. It was pointed out that by doing this, it would increase the maintenance and repair those roads for the time of the detour. Carroll said most bridge planning and design takes at least two years, and a good work schedule would be 70-80 working days.
Carroll plans to take the comments gathered at the public meeting to use when speaking with the state and railroad representatives. He is not personally in favor of closing any of the crossings.