COLUMBIA — Building a railroad bridge over U.S. 63 at the COLT railroad crossing would cost the city about $4.6 million, according to a report released earlier this week by a Kansas City engineering company.
“The biggest issue with the bridge problem is funding,” said Christian Johanningmeyer, a Columbia Terminal engineering supervisor.
The crossing has been the site of several vehicle and train accidents, the most recent on Thursday, when 64-year-old Ralph Haller, of Moberly, died after rear-ending a gasoline tanker-truck stopped at the crossing. State law requires all commercial vehicles, including tractor-trailers and school buses, to stop at railroad crossings.
The city hired TranSystems to develop a plan for a bridge in response to the number of accidents at the crossing, the Missourian reported earlier this year. City officials will meet with Missouri Department of Transportation representatives and a TranSystems consultant during the first week in November. At that meeting, the consultant will discuss the study and issues involved in the bridge plan, including funding and a construction timetable, Johanningmeyer said.
The report will be available on the city’s Web site, gocolumbiamo.com, within the next few days, he said.
An earlier plan proposed relocating an abandoned bridge near Interstate 35 in Cameron to the Columbia Terminal crossing. That plan proved to be more expensive, at $5 million, Johanningmeyer said.
The crossing has an active warning device, flashing lights and bells. The city has looked at options, but there is no way to immediately make the crossing safer, Johanningmeyer said.
The U.S. 63 and COLT Railroad crossing is “one of very few railroad crossings on interstate-class highways” in Missouri, Johanningmeyer said. He described an interstate-class highway as a two-lane highway with a 70-mph speed limit.
“There’s only two other ones like it in the state,” said Rod Massman, administrator of railroads for the Transportation Department. One is in Springfield, and the other is near Sikeston.
Since 2001, there have been three accidents involving a train and a vehicle at the COLT crossing, Massman said.
“This is an area that is obviously a concern for us,” said Columbia police Sgt. Tim Moriarity.
He said driver inattention and the 70-mph speed limit make it difficult for drivers to avoid accidents with trains or stopped commercial vehicles.
“Both the city and the state know it’s a problem,” Moriarity said. Thursday’s accident should return the public’s attention to the problem, he said.
“We have grant money,” Moriarity said. “We’ll try to get some people out there and try to slow people down.”
Moriarity said he put in a request to police department supervisors and officers to increase enforcement in the area of the railroad crossing, but he said it’s up to individual officers to participate.
Meanwhile, drivers can take some simple steps to avoid accidents at the crossing, he said: “Slow down and pay attention to what’s in front of you.”