Rail transit projects on the right track for funding
Nearly $79 million in the latest round of Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grants will benefit rail projects. U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Elaine Chao notified House and Senate authorizing committees of 10 projects selected by the agency for grants. Under the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the USDOT has proposed the funding for freight-related rail, port and roadway infrastructure projects to Congress. The FAST Act, which provides long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment, authorizes $305 billion over fiscal years 2016 through 2020 for highway, highway and motor vehicle safety, public transportation, motor carrier safety, hazardous materials safety, rail, and research, technology and statistics programs. Congress has 60 days to approve or disapprove the following projects to be funded:
• $12.3 million to La Plate County, Colo.: The project to realign 1.7 miles of U.S. 550, includes automated anti-icing systems and a southbound truck climbing grade for a “critical route” for freight trucks moving between Colorado and New Mexico.
• $9.9 million to the Northern Columbia Basin Rail Road project: The Port of Moses Lake, in partnership with the Washington State Department of Transportation, would be awarded the grant toward a $30.3 million project to complete construction of the Northern Basin Rail project. Plans include construction of a new 4.5-mile line along the Wheeler Industrial Corridor and rerouting existing aging rail infrastructure to the new route. Crews would construct 3 miles of new rail lines to access industrial land adjacent to the Grant County International Airport, and upgrade and modernize 3 miles of existing rail line;
• $9.85 million to the Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor project: The project entails construction of efficiency improvements that also would allow the Ports of Indiana to increase their cargo-handling capacity. Upgrades include construction of a new 2.3-acre bulk berth facility, a truck-barge-truck conveyer system, a new westside rail yard and new rail connection that will connect the port’s main terminal with the new rail yard, dockside improvements and construction of a truck marshaling yard.
• $8.67 million to the Taylor County Florida Competitiveness and Employment by Rail project: The effort calls for rehabilitating the Georgia & Florida Railway, including upgrades to 19 active warning public grade crossing devices. Plans also include rebuilding 90 public and private grade crossing surfaces, hardening 16 bridges to support increased traffic, installing 70,000 crossties and resurfacing 80 miles of railway between Foley, Fla. and Adel, Ga.;
• $7.89 million to the Maine Railroad Bridge Capacity project: Funding will be used to repair and upgrade 22 rail bridges on the Madawaska subdivision of the state-owned railroad in northeastern Maine;
• $7.54 million to the North Central Regional Railroad Authority project: The money will finance the rehabilitation of a 90-mile stretch of track of the Grenada Railroad between Grenada and Canton, Miss. The project would repair the Coldwater River Bridge;
• $7 million to the South Orient Railroad Rehabilitation and Presidio International Rail Bridge Reconstruction: The project would repair the Presidio-Ojinaga International Rail Bridge and rehabilitate 72 miles of the state-owned South Orient Railroad, from the U.S.-Mexico border to the Paisano Junction near Alpine, Texas. The work includes replacing 15,000 crossties, repairs to 38 bridges and reconstruction of 37 grade crossings;
• $5.7 million to the Evans Avenue Railroad Grade Separation Improvement project: Evans Avenue carries 4,000 vehicles per day and has two grade crossings with CSX and the Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority, which is refurbishing the rail line to accommodate 10 passenger-rail transits daily in the corridor. CSX has 32 train crossings per day. The project would realign a short section of Evans Avenue and construction of two bridges over existing CSX and RTA rail lines;
• $5 million for the New Hampshire DOT to replace the outdated Rodgers’ Rangers Bridge: The bridge is used by many logging trucks and carries U.S. Route 2 over the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont. The 1950 bridge is 2.5 feet too short for many logging trucks to use;
• $5 million for a project in Michigan and Wisconsin: Plans call for replacing and updating ferry docking and berthing facilities in Ludington, Mich. and Manitowoc, Wis.
The projects selected are part of the Small Project Fiscal Year 2017 INFRA grants. USDOT is accepting applications until Nov. 2 for FY2017 Large Project grants and FY2018 Large and Small Projects under the INFRA grants program.
North Carolina’s $2.47 billion Durham-Orange light-rail transit project was approved last week by the Federal Transit Administration to move forward with the engineering phase of the 17.7-mile light-rail project. This is the last design piece to take place before learning whether the counties could get 50 percent of the project’s funding by 2020 from the federal government. The final federal decision also depends on the project getting up to 10 percent of its funding from the state and the remaining 40 percent from regional partners — roughly $890 million, plus interest on short- and long-term debt. Regional transit authority, GoTriangle, plans to repay the debt through 2062. The $70 million engineering contract was approved this spring and the work is in progress. The Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro Metropolitan Planning Organization plans to resubmit the project for North Carolina Department of Transportation funding. The project remains on track for construction in 2020, with service beginning in 2028.
After holding their final community information meeting this week, the Metro Gold Line Foothill Construction Authority is ready to break ground on the 12.3-mile, six-station Foothill Gold Line light rail extension from Glendora to Montclair, Calif. The light rail currently runs from East Los Angeles to Azusa. The $1.4 billion Gold Line will be the first Metro light rail line to cross county lines from Los Angeles into San Bernardino. After several years of planning, the Gold Line extension project is set to break ground in Glendora in late October with major construction work starting in 2020. The project is expected to be completed by 2026. The Construction Authority will use this time to finalize the project design and hire a design-build contractor before major construction work starts in 2020.
The state of Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission is accepting applications from railroad companies, local governments and other agencies interested in funding to make safety improvements at railroad crossings and along tracks. Funding is provided through the state Grade Crossing Protective Fund. Grants are typically limited to $20,000 for each project. Applications will be accepted through Jan. 1, and grant awards will be made as applications are received and approved by the commission, according to a press release. Railroad safety improvement projects may include upgrading active warning devices at crossings, installing energy efficient LED flashing lights, replacing crossbucks and signage at crossings, constructing pedestrian sidewalks for safe passage and building fences to prevent trespassing on tracks.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has been getting public input through Aug. 10 for future rail projects. An interactive online public meeting was launched at OK2017RailPlan.com to provide information and gather input for the 2017 State Rail Plan. Once comments are gathered, the final version of the 2017 State Rail Plan will be drafted. Once finalized, the plan will help guide the department’s decisions to make improvements to rail systems across the state.