A grade separation for the railroad crossing on Hoover Avenue will be considered by the city after a study by AECOM, an engineering firm in Stevens Point, found the project would have a reasonable price tag.
Kevin Hagen, project designer with AECOM, presented four possibilities – two underpass and two overpass options – to the Board of Public Works Monday, April 14. The most appealing and affordable is an overpass with an estimated cost of $12.3 million, which includes contingencies, property acquisition and design costs.
The most expensive option, an underpass, would cost the city $20.7 million.
“For so long, with the initial estimates we had seen and the initial concepts of an overpass, we thought it would be so large and take up so much land that it would really be financially impossible and wouldn’t be practical,” said Stevens Point Mayor Andrew Halverson. “Now, on the other side of the coin, the cost of underpasses is just financially impossible in terms of the price tag.”
Another reason an overpass is appealing to the city is because the two already in Stevens Point are very problematic in heavy rains, he said.
The main problem with the current intersection is the disruption it causes when a train blocks it, said Halverson.
It isn’t so much dangerous as far as accident counts go, as there haven’t been many, said Hagen. The real problem it poses is the disruption of traffic for the approximately 3,000 people driving to work every day and trucks coming and going from the business park.
“There is a lot of lost productivity,” Hagen said.
However, safety is an issue when emergency vehicles like fire trucks and ambulances have to detour around the crossing because of trains.
“We have ambulance concerns as well, there are times we are adding three, four and five minutes to response times because emergency services have to divert around that crossing,” Halverson said. “This will take nearly all of those issues off the table.”
“I have never encountered a topic in the seven years I have been mayor that I’ve heard more complaints about than that railroad crossing,” he said. “That is an absolute truth. We will get phone calls from people sitting there saying, ‘what are you going to do about this? This is absolutely crazy.’”
“I give a lot of credit to AECOM for being very practical in the way of engineering a solution that uses more of the existing road, rather than preserving the “S” curve that’s there, (the plan) straightens it and moves it to the east,” said Halverson. “They dropped the price to $12.3 million, from what we had always thought would be inevitably at $20-plus million.”
Halverson suggested to the Board of Public Works it might be a good idea to transfer all available money from grants and funds set aside for the Business 51 Project – totaling about $9 million – to the overpass project.
“We can fill potholes and cracks for a long time on Business 51. What we can’t do is move those trains,” Halverson said. “And we know that rail traffic will continue to increase based on (Canadian National’s) investments in the rail yard here in Stevens Point.”
Business 51 will have to be addressed eventually, but this project is something that can be done relatively quickly and has needed to be done for many years, said Halverson.
“For a borrowing that would be very palatable for the city, we feel that using 2015 for design year and ultimately targeting construction start for the spring of 2016 is very possible with this project,” Halverson said. “It is certainly a major shift in our infrastructure priorities, but one we can embrace by a significantly larger portion of our community.”
The safety of a railroad crossing is measured by an “exposure factor,” or the number of cars that cross per day multiplied by the number of trains that cross per day. The Department of Transportation sets the number at 100,000 when a municipality should consider an over/underpass. The Hoover Avenue crossing is rated at approximately 200,000.
“In this case, we have about 30 trains per day and about 6,000 cars crossing the tracks, so if you multiply those two numbers together you’re getting up around 200,000 a day,” said Hagen. “So, our exposure factor is about double what it should be when you need to consider a grade separation at that crossing.”