Monday, April 19, 2010

Tower 55 engineering to begin

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Preliminary engineering for surface improvements to Tower 55 will begin soon following an April 8 vote to fund the project by the Regional Transportation Council, the Ft. Worth Business Press reports. The at-grade surface improvements for the congested Tower 55 rail yard, widely considered to be the most congested rail yard in the United States, are expected to cost about $95 million. The yard sits at the southwest corner of the intersection of interstates 35-W and 30.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments previously had applied for $60 million in federal stimulus grant funding to complete the surface improvement plans, but did not receive the funds. The $60 million would have been matched by $35 million from BNSF and Union Pacific.

The recent vote by the Regional Transportation Council approved $2.5 million to go toward engineering for the surface improvements. Having engineering work complete may give Tower 55 a better chance to receive federal grant funding in the future, said Tom Shelton, a senior program manager with the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

"The strategy is that the railroads and the city want to complete the engineering and design for at-grade surface improvements so the project is fully shovel-ready and ready to go in hopes that it will receive some federal funding in the next opportunity," Shelton said.

The $2.5 million approved April 8 comes from federal funding the Council of Governments receives directly, Shelton said, but added he wasn't sure when the funding would become available.

"We're eager for the engineering to be complete because what we don't know is when the next opportunity is going to be for federal funding," he said. The federal government "puts a great emphasis on projects that are ready to go to construction in hopes that it will create jobs, and that's the strategy here."

The surface improvements to Tower 55 would include crossover improvements and grade separations to increase freight capacity, construction on new tracks and work on street crossing improvements and other projects along Jennings Avenue, Hemphill Street and Magnolia Avenue.

Ideas for long-term improvements to Tower 55 include a $600-million trench, which would run from north to south beginning at the Spur 280 overpass and ending near Rosedale Street near I-35W. The trench would be about 25 feet to 30 feet underground, and would reroute northbound and southbound rail traffic underneath the Tower 55 intersection. Rerouting the traffic, officials have said, would free up rail traffic in the yard and along tracks coming into Fort Worth from all directions, and improve air quality issues resulting from idling trains.

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