School buses, other vehicles no longer required to stop at COLT crossing

Monday, April 21, 2008 | 5:26 p.m. CDT; updated 6:49 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — A short-term plan to fix the long-term problem of traffic accidents and safety at the city’s most notorious railroad crossing has been approved.

The City Council passed a resolution in February formally asking the Missouri Department of Transportation to install additional warning signs as far as 10 miles away from the U.S. 63 COLT railroad crossing and to exempt trucks, school buses and vehicles carrying hazardous waste from stopping at the intersection. The Transportation Department controls the road and the U.S. 63 railroad crossing, which is just north of Paris Road.

State law requires school buses and commercial vehicles to stop at railroad crossings, but several accidents that have occurred at the COLT crossing have been caused by fast-moving vehicles failing to slow down in time to avoid hitting vehicles that have stopped.

City and state officials said they hope the exemption, which takes effect Tuesday morning, might put a stop to the accidents. The most recent crash at the crossing occurred in February when a tractor-trailer that had stopped at the tracks was rear-ended by a car. Two people were hospitalized.

From 2002 to 2006, according to the Transportation Department report, there were 18 traffic accidents at the crossing. From 1997 to 2001, there were eight.

The transportation agency notified school districts in mid-Missouri and along the U.S. 63 corridor about the change, spokesman Jason Sommerer said. He added, however, that some truck and school bus companies might continue directing their drivers to stop at the crossing.

The warning signs will be installed by mid-May. The state is working with the COLT railroad to fund upgrades of incandescent lights currently used on the crossing equipment to brighter, more visible LEDs.

COLT supervising engineer Christian Johanningmeier said that although the improvements are reasonable, there is more work to consider. In October, a Kansas City engineering firm estimated it would cost the city about $4.6 million to build an overpass at the crossing. The feasibility study cost $50,000.

Johanningmeier said the city is hiring an engineering firm to design the overpass, at a cost of more than $400,000, though it has no money yet to build the bridge.

“Our thinking is that we’re going to go ahead to have the design,” Johanningmeier said. “So whenever funding becomes available to actually construct a bridge we’ll have our plans ready to go on short notice.”

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