City in negotiations with railroad over Whistle-Free Zone crossings
The three BNSF railroad crossings through Detroit Lakes are still scheduled for Whistle Free Zone status, but the city is having some contract issues with the railroad in the mean time.
City Administrator Bob Louiseau said everything physically that needs to be done for the Whistle Free Zone has been done at the County Road 54, Kris Street and Washington Avenue crossings.
The issue lies within the contract. The railroad's contract suggested the city take responsibility if there are any accidents at the crossings.
"It left the city liable for any accidents for the Whistle Free Zone, in particular the Kris Street crossing," Louiseau said.
In a letter to Community Development Director Larry Remmen, City Attorney Bill Briggs stated, "The agreement is one-sided for the benefit of BNSF and imposes burdens and risks on the city."
The city responded and is in negotiations for the railroad to take on responsibility as well. The exit gates are not installed at the Kris Street crossing yet, but will be once the site has been approved.
"We'd like to be done as soon as we can, but we can't sign something that puts the city at risk like that," Lousieau said.
Briggs continued to explain in his letter that the BNSF contract suggests that the city of Detroit Lakes must take responsibility for all claims and damages "of any kind, including claims or damages caused or contributed to by BNSF. This means that the city could be required to reimburse BNSF for damage to BNSF to the facilities caused by BNSF itself."
"Frankly, they have treated Detroit Lakes differently than they've treated other towns for no real reasons," Mayor Larry Buboltz said.
Minnesota Department of Transportation Resident Construction Engineer Jeff Perkins said the County Road 54 crossing is done and meets criteria. Kris Street needs the exit gates and will be done this year.
The Washington Avenue crossing is tricky, though. The north side is done and meets criteria, but the south side is still under review.
In order to qualify for the standard safety measure, the median needs to measure 60 feet in length and 6 inches in height. The south side of the tracks doesn't meet the 60-foot requirement because the area is not long enough, especially to allow any turning.
There is an alternative safety measure the city may have to follow once it's determined if extra safety measures are needed, and what they are.
The Federal Railroad Administration, Burlington Northern Santa Fe and the city are all working together on the project. MnDOT is assisting the city.
Regardless of the Whistle Free Zone at this point, the Kris Street crossing was scheduled to be tested today (Wednesday). MnDOT and BNSF technicians will be doing the testing of the signals.
The signals are different than other crossings in town because of the proximity of the crossing and gates. When a train approaches the Kris Street railroad crossing, the traffic signals will clear motorists from the railroad crossing area.
As the train continues through, traffic signals will allow Highway 10 and Randolph Road traffic to move eastbound and westbound through the intersections, however, northbound and southbound Kris Street traffic will be restricted by red arrows and motorists will not be allowed to turn toward the railroad crossing.
"We're crossing our fingers everything goes fine," MnDOT Construction Project Engineer Shiloh Wahl said of Wednesday's test run.
At an update for the Highway 10 construction meeting, Wahl reported, "We did survive WE Fest weekend. It went really well considering the traffic control we did."
Although planned to be operative Wednesday, Aug. 6, there was a glitch in the Washington Avenue signals, so they didn't get turned on until Thursday, still making it in time for the WE Fest crowds.
With the new Highway 10 largely finished, work is now focused on getting the frontage road finished and open.
From East Shore Drive to North Shore Drive, the retaining walls are under construction or still need to be built. That portion of the frontage road will not open until the end of September.
From North Shore Drive to Corbett Road, curb work is being done. "We're staging driveways as best we can," Johnson said, adding that some businesses will be sharing accesses. "We just want to get that paved up and get it opened up," he said of the frontage road.
From Jackson Street to Frazee Street, traffic will be on gravel for a longer period of time. This is the last portion of the project that will be finished by the Sept. 30 completion date.
Other highlights include:
n Highway 10 and its frontage road will be open by Sept. 30 to traffic, but landscaping and sidewalks will be done after that.
n The overlook area has finally received all necessary approvals and now work will start there. It will be open and ready when the frontage road is open by the end of September.
n There will be inside and outside lane closures along Highway 10 throughout the month at various locations for various projects.
n At Highway 59 and Highway 10, besides the corrective paving at the crossing, there will be some "re-profiling" done "to get that ride on northbound, southbound a lot smoother," Hoffman Construction Project Manager Chad Johnson said. The State Patrol will help with directing traffic.
n Roosevelt Avenue will close north of old Highway 10 for several days to get the grade down and then open back up with a temporary gravel surface.
n McKinley Avenue is closed for a few weeks to do sewer and water work, and then will be opened back up with a temporary gravel surface.
n The island near the Graystone needs to be completed yet. Trees and shrubs will be planted in that area, as well as by the BNSF Depot, for beautification purposes.