Tuesday, January 4, 2011

DOT Signs Off on Final Funding for Colton Crossing Rail Project

The United States Department of Transportation has signed off on a $33.8 million federal stimulus grant which provides the final funding for the redevelopment of a highly congested freight rail crossing located about 65 miles east of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

The nearly $210 million Colton Crossing project seeks to separate an at-grade Inland Empire intersection of an east-west Union Pacific track and a north-south BNSF track. While mainly a freight route, public transit trains also utilize the BNSF track and Amtrak trains use the UP track.

More than 110 trains a day cross through the four-way rail track intersection and trains waiting to cross can sometimes sit idling for hours. Freight and transit rail officials, including the DOT, have identified the crossing as one of them most serious rail congestion points in the region – one with national impacts due to the slowing of freight from the Southern California ports. Approximately 60 percent of the freight rail traffic that moves through the crossing is Southern California port traffic.

The Colton Crossing project has generated several controversies, with local residents and the railroads differing on the how the project should eventually look and Inland Empire transportation officials, with their own ideas of where scarce state funds should be spent, initially balking at spending taxpayer funds to support what they viewed was essentially a private infrastructure project.

Local residents urged local officials to design the crossing so that at least one of the sets of tracks was sunk into a below-grade trench, thus minimizing impacts on surrounding areas. The railroads pushed for the cheaper option that would see a bridge built to carry one track over the other.

The current plan calls for the cheaper option, with a new flyover planned to lift the UP tracks above the BNSF tracks.

The $33.8 million DOT grant was originally approved in February 2010 as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER program. However, the signing of an implementing accord was delayed until last week due to negotiations between the various parties. In May 2010, the California Transportation Commission approved $91 million in funding from the voter approved California Proposition 1B Trade Corridor Improvement Fund. The two railroads will provide the remaining funding.