Merced Railroad Underpass Grant

August 27, 2008 9:43:22 PM PDT
Merced city leaders are in Sacramento right now fighting for funding to address the city's train trouble.City officials want to build an underpass here at the railroad tracks on G Street. The project has been recommended for a nine million dollar grant. But now it's up to the California Transportation Commission to make the final decision.

Merced residents are hoping a new undercrossing may offer an escape route from the more than 70 trains that travel these tracks every day.

Nicole Borba: "There's too many, it's time consuming, you're always late for everything."

The city has collected pages of complaints from people who say they've waited up to an hour for a variety of unexpected delays. Earlier this month one train made an emergency stop that caused several crossing gates to malfunction. The arms were stuck in the down position for hours before the railroad disabled them.

Raul Reyes: "It was bad, I tried from J Street all the way to the other end and I couldn't get across. I had to call my boss and say I'm late, the train is not letting me get through. I was only half a block away."

But the trains aren't just a nuisance, they're also a safety concern. Ambulances and fire engines often wait several minutes for slow-moving trains to clear the crossings.

Chief Ken Mitten, Merced Fire Dept.: "When a fire starts, you look at anywhere from 4-6 minutes, just like a medical aid call where someone's not breathing that you have time to get there and interrupt the process, if you don't then you have the potential for a serious fire and people being trapped, or if it's a medical aid call, someone actually dying."

That's why city leaders are asking the state to approve funding for undercrossing at G Street. The nine million dollar grant would cover about half the cost and the city and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railroad would pay for the rest.

Gilbert Benavidaz: "It would help the city out a lot cause we get jammed up a lot, especially when these big trains come by."

The transportation commission held hearings and will vote on which of 22 recommended projects to fund Thursday. If the underpass is approved, construction is expected start in March of 2010.

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