https://www.thenewsherald.com/news/offi ... LCKChuClTMDownriver’s most notorious railroad crossing is on track for a major overhaul.
Under a tentative agreement announced Monday morning, the Allen Road crossing north of Van Horn in Woodhaven would be reconfigured by elevating the railway above the road, which then would be lowered by more than 20 feet to allow motorists to pass underneath.
The projects are expected to take up to three years to complete and will include road reconstruction work at both Allen and Van Horn roads, as well as the construction of a pump house and the relocation of utility, water and sewer lines.
The plan still requires the approval of both the Wayne County Commission and the Woodhaven City Council.
If approved, the work is estimated to cost between $35 million and $39 million. The money will come from federal, state and local sources.
U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-12th District), state Rep. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown), state Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit), Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and Woodhaven Mayor Patricia Odette made the announcement during the Downriver Economic Development Summit hosted by the Detroit Regional Partnership at Wayne County Community College District’s campus in Taylor.
“This is another long-standing problem that’s held back Wayne County and I’m pleased we were able to bring all levels of government together to finally broker a solution and help increase access to the Downriver economic corridor,” Evans said. “This is a key artery to one of our busiest commercial and industrial corridors and the delays have created headaches for residents, businesses and visitors for years.”
If approved, the county will bid out and award the work over the next nine months.
“The project will not only benefit the city of Woodhaven, but will benefit the entire region,” Odette said. “Residents and businesses have been negatively impacted for years and the delays have brought our city and much of the region to a standstill several times a day. It causes issues for our schools, emergency personnel, and has negatively affected the quality of all of our lives. Opening up that main corridor will positively impact the entire region.”
According to county officials, more than 30,000 vehicles travel daily across the Allen Road crossing, which is owned by Canadian National. The average stoppage caused by trains there is about nine minutes, but it’s not uncommon for some to last 45 minutes or more, county officials said. In one instance in 2014, they said, trains blocked the crossing for over six hours due to a mechanical failure.
Local officials have long criticized the blocked trains as they can inhibit police and fire personnel from responding to emergencies, as well as accessing nearby Beaumont Hospital, Trenton. They've even installed cameras at the crossing so people can log on and watch a livestream to see if it's blocked at any given time.
"There are a number of serious train issues Downriver where railroads block intersections for significant amounts of time,” Dingell said. “Recognizing this, John Dingell got federal money 15 years ago so communities could begin to address the problem. Today's announcement moving forward with the Allen Road crossing in Woodhaven is only a start in addressing the devastating delays for residents trying to get to the only Level II trauma center Downriver, for major automotive companies trying to get just-in-time deliveries and residents trying to get to and from work or school. This is just the beginning and we have much work ahead of us to address the other problematic crossings in the area.”
Once completed, Odette said, the project has the potential to save lives, something that Woodhaven Fire Chief Mike Clark signed off on.
A train blocked the crossing when firefighters were responding to a house fire at about 12:30 p.m. Sunday, he said. It took an extra five minutes for his truck to arrive, he said.
"It's always a guessing game for us," he said. "(This project) is going to be a game changer. It's something we've been hoping for a long time."
From growing up and living Downriver, Camilleri is familiar with the yearslong issue and has used real-life examples of how the blocked crossings interfere with people’s lives during speeches he’s made in Lansing hoping to secure a solution.
"By bringing people together and reaching a deal to finally build this bridge, we're delivering results for Downriver residents and finding a solution to this problem after decades of attempts," Camilleri said. "With this grade separation, our community will be safer and have more opportunities for economic development. I'm excited that the $12 million we secured in the state budget could be a catalyst to finally get this project started. This project is going to provide relief to the residents and businesses who’ve been hurt by the crippling delays.”
Trying to solve this problem for years, city and county officials have continuously applied for federal grants, but were unsuccessful each time. Woodhaven officials also put the issue before voters — twice — but were defeated by residents who said they shouldn’t have to bear the costs of fixing the issue since people from all over traverse the roadway.
If the latest plan is approved, up to $12 million will be earmarked for road construction, with $8 million coming from a federal grant and the additional money, up to $4 million, coming from Wayne County’s Act 51 funds.
The other portion of the project — the bridge construction and associated improvements — will cost up to $27 million, with $12 million coming from the State of Michigan/Department of Transportation, up to $10.25 million from the city of Woodhaven and up to $6 million from Wayne County’s Act 51 funds.
Odette stressed that Woodhaven's portion is coming without raising taxes. She said $5 million will come from the city's Downtown Development Authority and the other $5 million will come from issuing bonds and tapping into the city's Act 51 funds.
"We did this without raising anyone's taxes," she said, smiling. "This is an amazing day, not only for the city of Woodhaven, but for Downriver."
Public Act 51 of 1951 is the state's funding mechanism that determines how revenue dollars allocated for roads and transportation are distributed. Under PA 51, state, county and local governments receive money from the Michigan Transportation Fund, the bulk of which is made up of vehicle registration fees and fuel taxes.
“We are so proud that we were able to secure funding for this grade separation project in the state budget,” said Chang, who worked with Camilleri to help secure funding for the project in this year’s state budget as Woodhaven is in both of their districts.
“It would not have happened without the support of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and our colleagues in the Legislature. Today’s announcement is a victory for the residents and local leaders who have urged action on this public safety and quality of life issue. When local, county, state and federal officials work together, we can get things done and solve big problems.”
Odette, who has been criticized in the past for speaking out against county, state and federal officials she felt weren’t doing enough to help solve the problem, said she's now thankful that a collaborative agreement has been reached.
“I am glad that all of the government entities have been able to come together to work out an agreement in order to solve the situation,” Odette said. “To the governor, the Wayne County executive, and to our state Rep. Darrin Camilleri and Sen. Stephanie Chang, my deepest gratitude. If it were not for the late Congressman John Dingell, who began this project, it would have never even gotten off the ground, and for that, the city of Woodhaven will remain eternally grateful.”
The Allen Road project does come with an expense. A planned bridge over the Van Horn Road rail crossing in Woodhaven has been scrapped as the state money first earmarked for that work is now being diverted for Allen Road. Camilleri said that made the most sense, considering the traffic volume and the number of people affected by the two crossings.
Ideally, though, he said, other state leaders will get on board with his plan to create a bank of money earmarked specifically for blocked crossings that can be used to address all railways where this is an issue.
"Today's announcement will hopefully serve as a blueprint to show why this is so necessary," he said.
The wait is almost over!