WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH THE 54TH AVENUE RAILROAD CROSSING
The Railroad Crossing at 54th Avenue remains closed to the general public and is open at this time only for emergency vehicles and special events at which the crossing can have City personnel available to provide additional safety for crossing active railroad tracks.
The Fife City Council, at the request of the Fife School District, initially closed the 54th Avenue crossing because of concerns the School District expressed for the safety of the children not only at the crossing, but also at the Columbia Junior High itself. The School District had expressed the concern about the possibility of a derailment occurring at the crossing, which could result in rail cars being derailed onto the middle school grounds, thus potentially harming the children. The City agreed to restrict the use of the crossing in order to address the School District’s concerns. That agreement is set forth in various legal documents that are binding both on the school district and the City.
The School District Board over the years has on several occasions expressed their continued concern for the safety of the school children, and have resisted any efforts to open the at-grade crossing for unrestricted use.
In 2009 the City spent many thousands of dollars for consultants to design what the consultants thought would be a safe at grade crossing for pedestrians. The City made application to the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission (“WUTC” is the state agency that governs rail road crossings), for permission to construct the at-grade pedestrian crossing designed by the consultants. The experts from the Union Pacific Rail Road, and the WUTC staff and its experts stated that an at-grade pedestrian crossing was unsafe. The UPRR and the WUTC staff stated that they would actively contest the City’s application if the City continued any further and thus the City withdrew the application.
The safety of the City’s children is a paramount concern. The railroad was given the right by the WUTC to build a siding track that will extend through the 54th Avenue crossing. When that track is constructed the danger to children from the at-grade crossing would increase even more. The City, in working with various stakeholders, did initial design work for building a grade separated crossing that would allow pedestrians and cars to safely go under the rail road tracks, resulting in the unsafe at grade crossing being permanently closed. However, the estimated cost for constructing the grade separated crossing is $24,000,000, and the City and stakeholders have not been able to find sufficient funds to pay for such an expensive project.
In the meantime, the safety of the children must still be addressed, and it is currently being addressed by the Fife City Council, using funds that will be made available without additional taxes, and without having to rely on other stakeholders. The City Council has authorized the preparation of schematic plans and cost estimates for the construction of a pedestrian and bike overpass that will provide a safe passage over the top of the railroad tracks for all citizens, including the children. This still leaves open the possibility that should funding become available sometime in the future, that an underpass could be constructed to allow for cars. In the meantime, however, the City is going forward with exploring a pedestrian overpass.
We will provide new information as it becomes available, but in the meantime, if you have questions please contact Brodie Rota, Executive Assistant, Fife City Hall, (253) 896-8602.