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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Deal reached on Colton Crossing side projects

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An agreement is near regarding improvements around a long-sought railroad overpass in Colton, Calif., between railroad and local officials, as the overall project's fate heads to a state commission, The Press-Enterprise reports.

The Colton Crossing grade separation has been a source of debate between state, federal and local officials. Though the project ranks low on a list of local priorities, it has consistently received favor when it comes to securing government grants, including a recent $43-million award of federal stimulus funds.

The project removes the place where BNSF and Union Pacific tracks cross, which leads to delays in freight trains moving in and out of Southern California. Companies and state officials have argued the crossing causes air pollution and leads to delays for motorists, but local officials have said they would prefer to use scarce state and federal funds on other projects.

To minimize opposition, the railroads began negotiating with local officials on other improvements around the crossing.

"These are improvements to address the city of Colton's concern," said Garry Cohoe, director of freeway construction for San Bernardino Associated Governments.

Under the terms of the Colton Crossing deal, SANBAG will spend up to $35.1 million on a handful of projects associated with the project. BNSF and Union Pacific will use the state and federal money -- as well as their own -- to raise the Union Pacific tracks.

"SANBAG is not contributing anything to the Colton Crossing," Cohoe said.

The transportation agency, meanwhile, will pay for most of a planned overpass along Laurel Street, and pay most of the cost of creating a "quiet zone" where trains can proceed without blowing their horns, once new traffic and pedestrian gates are installed.

Also important is an agreement to reroute trains so SANBAG will not have to replace a railroad bridge spanning Interstate 215 that will need to be widened, Cohoe said. That could save about $10 million as officials prepare to widen the freeway to add a carpool lane in each direction, he estimated.

The railroads will also review and comment on the I-215 widen and its impacts on them within a month.

"That is very important to us because railroads can sometimes drag on a little bit," Cohoe said.

In return, local agencies are less likely to oppose the Colton Crossing project when the railroads turn to the state for funding.

A larger agreement between the railroads and state officials on the railroad overpass is necessary to receive $97 million in state funds included in the Prop. 1B transportation bond voters approved in 2006, must be reviewed by the California Transportation Commission. The commission meets March 25 in Los Angeles.

"I think what they won't want to see is local opposition ...," Cohoe said. "It would be nice for all the stakeholders including the city to be on the same page."

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