Specifically, the two possible changes would be to add crossing arm gates at the Fifth Street crossing, and close the one at Sixth Street.
“The state has a five year strategic highway plan which includes railroad crossings,” says City Engineer Bill Sayre of Bolton and Menk Engineering firm. “MnDOT told us that in 2016 Blue Earth might be considered for gates on Fifth Street.”
The revelation came during an inspection visit to Blue Earth last month, Sayre says. There were two employees of MnDOT and one from the Union Pacific inspecting the crossings in the city.
Sayre says the three specifically referred to a fatal accident at the Fifth Street crossing – which occurred in December 2006 – as a major reason Blue Earth may qualify for the gates.
“However, the cost of the new crossing arm gates would be $300,000,” Sayre says. “The city of Blue Earth would be expected to cover 10 percent of the cost, or around $30,000.”
When the City Council was informed of the situation at a meeting last month, they said no to the plan.
Likewise, they also nixed another proposal from the railroad, which was to permanently close the railroad crossing at Sixth Street.
“The railroad is always looking to close crossings as a safety measure,” Sayre says. “And they offered to pay the city $15,000 if they could close it.”
The council however, decided the crossing was necessary as the Blue Earth Area schools use both crossings – Fifth and Sixth streets – to run buses to both sides of the elementary and middle schools.
Channeling all of the traffic to only one side of the school would not be feasible, according to Dan Brod, BEA transportation director.
City Administrator Kathy Bailey was instructed by the council to send a letter to MnDOT and the railroad declining either of the two changes.
Bailey says it is not unusual for the railroad to want to add crossing arms and to close crossings, all as a matter of trying to improve safety.
“I believe the crossing arms on the Seventh Street crossing were installed as part of a bargain to close the Third Street crossing,” she says.
Bailey says the railroad recently was involved with the city in fixing some issues with the Second Street crossing.
“The approach was too steep of a ramp,” she says. “If a motorist was going too fast it caused a ‘Dukes of Hazard’ situation.”