Fairfield seeks funds to address railroad crossing problem

Fairfield officials want something similar to South Hamilton Crossing to be at Symmes Road crossing.

But first, they need to determine if it’s viable.

City leaders are asking City Council to request financial assistance from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund the preliminary engineering of a separated grade railroad crossing at Symmes Road. This funding request is in the neighborhood of $2 million to $3 million and would be from the recently created Railroad Crossing Elimination (RCE) Program.

This project would also look at additional crossings for potential modification, said Fairfield Public Works Director Ben Mann.

“We were interested in it 15 years ago, but didn’t think at that time would be able to find an outside funding source,” Mann said of the project that could be in the neighborhood of $25 to $30 million. “In that range, obviously, we need to be able to get federal funding.”

The city now has that potential.

The city considered tunneling under Symmes Road at the CSX railroad crossing 15 years ago, but Mann said due to the logistics of trying to maintain the tracks while you going underneath, and the potential for bad soil and installing a a pumping system, it wasn’t worth the investment.

“The construction is less problematic to go over it,” Mann said. “It’s easier to maintain the existing tracks if you’re building a bridge over it instead if you’re trying to tunnel under it.”

The South Hamilton Crossing, which opened in December 2018, cost $32 million.

The RCE Program has allocated approximately $573.3 million for this year for eligible projects, such as bridging over tracks that improve the safety or mobility of goods and people, according to the U.S. DOT.

Symmes Road has an average daily traffic count of more than 14,400 vehicles at this CSX railroad crossing, and historically, between 35 and 40 trains travel these tracks per day.

Mann said CSX has shown an interest in being supportive of the project.

It’s expected the city of Fairfield would use HDR, Inc., a consultant with expertise in this area, to prepare a grant application for a request to fund a planning grant award. No state can receive more than 20% of the allocated funds, according to the U.S. DOT.

The grant application is due Oct. 4, and Mann said they could hear by March if they would receive money for preliminary engineering.

If successful, the city and the U.S. DOT could have an agreement around June 2023 for the engineering, and they could apply for construction funds within a year or two. Mann believes if the city does not get construction funds, they can reapply as the RCE is a five-year funding program.

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