Bakersfield looks to get crossings on track
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. - Once built, four new railroad crossings planned in southwest Bakersfield will ease traffic congestion and make streets safer in the burgeoning area, city officials told the Bakersfield Californian.
Construction can't start, however, without approval from the San Joaquin Valley Railroad, said city Assistant Public Works Director Jacques LaRochelle, and the railroad has been dragging its feet.
But Wednesday the city and railroad finally appeared close to reaching an agreement, LaRochelle said.
San Joaquin officials denied they were dodging the city and said they were waiting until their experts finished reviewing the plans.
They're not shy in saying, though, they are strongly opposed to the projects because adding new crossings just compounds the danger.
Nonetheless, the company will work with Bakersfield to make sure the work gets done in a timely and safe manner, said Charles Littlefield, the railroad's general manager.
Pegged for construction at Akers, Harris and Old River roads, as well as Mountain Vista Drive, the crossings have been a source of contention for years. The city has wanted to punch the roads through the tracks, but the railroad has opposed the moves.
Every crossing where roadway meets train track is a potential disaster, Littlefield said.
Drivers often drive around lowered crossing arms or just knock them down all together, he said. Workers are replacing arms on nearly a daily basis in Bakersfield and Fresno.
"You try to eliminate 'at-grade' crossings, not add more," he said.
Placing crossings so close together adds to the danger, Littlefield said. It will also make operations tougher for the railroad, which uses that stretch as a staging area.
Despite San Joaquin's protest, an administrative law judge approved construction in July. The state Public Utilities Commission upheld the ruling.
Months later work is far from beginning.
Engineering experts and attorneys are looking over the designs, a process that takes 30 to 60 days, Littlefield said.
In the meantime, the need for crossings is growing as hundreds of homes sprout up in the southwest, LaRochelle said.
Crossings will help make roads less congested and safer, he added.
New subdivisions are constantly being built, said city engineer Nick Fidler.
"Traffic's just going to keep increasing," Fidler said.
"Pretty soon Gosford Road and Buena Vista Road won't be able to handle that traffic flow."
City staff estimate that daily traffic at the crossings would range between 2,500 and 6,500 cars, with Harris Road handling the heaviest load.
Along Mountain Vista Drive it would help traffic congestion at nearby Warren Junior High, he said.
Students to the south won't have to go miles out of their way to get to class, Fidler said.
It will also give police officers and firefighters quicker access in case of an emergency, said Principal Wayne Winter.
Right now it's one road in and out.
"We would be very happy about that," Winter said.
"It's going to save a lot of our parents time."
Though the city hoped to start construction by the end of the year, delays mean April or May is a more realistic time frame, Fidler said.
The crossing at Old River will likely be built first, he said.
Each will cost around $300,000 to $400,000 and take three to four months to build, Fidler said.
A crossing near Warren, the largest junior high in the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, would certainly ease daily congestion, said Scott Arvizu, a seventh- grade history teacher.
"I think it's great," he said. "I think it's long overdue."
(This item appeared in the Californian Oct. 21, 2004)
October 21, 2004
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