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US DOT to provide $59m in grants to improve safety at highway-railway crossings

The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has announced US$59m in grant awards to help save lives with safer crossings in California, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The grants have been made possible by the FHWA’s Commuter Authority Rail Safety Improvement (CARSI) program. Grants for the five projects, awarded by FHWA in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), will be used to make highway-rail crossings safer for all parties.

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The projects include adding signal features that will help drivers move away from the track before a train arrives in Ventura County, Southern California; modernizing 25 commuter rail crossings with improved lighting and other safety features in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties in Florida; improving accessibility and making warning system upgrades in Dutchess, Nassau, Putnam and Suffolk Counties in New York; and installing gates and upgrading pavement markings in communities around Philadelphia.

“Safety is the number one priority of the US Department of Transportation, especially as our country faces a crisis of fatalities on our roadways,” said US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg. “Today’s grants, along with additional funds from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, will improve safety at highway-rail crossings for travelers, whether they’re riding, driving, biking, or walking.”

The CARSI competitive grant allocations consist of two rounds. In January 2021, US DOT awarded five grants totaling US$40.2m for CARSI Round One projects. A list of the selected projects is available here.

The CARSI Round Two grants have been awarded to five recipients. First, the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (SCRRA), operator of Metrolink, will receive a US$12.5m grant to bring three high-volume at-grade highway-railway crossings in Ventura County up to current SCRAA Grade Crossing Safety Standards and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The project will improve safety for drivers by adding protective devices, wider medians, and modified crossing warning systems, and improve safety for pedestrians by adding emergency swing gates and right-of-way fencing. The crossings are located either adjacent to or within areas of persistent poverty and/or historically disadvantaged communities.

Second, the Southern Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) will receive a US$12.9m grant to modernize 25 rail crossings on its Tri-Rail commuter rail line in Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach Counties. The project will upgrade LED lights and update signal houses, gate mechanisms, cantilevers, and light assemblies. The rail line is in an area where vehicular traffic has increased and where train traffic is expected to increase over the next several years as well.

Third, the New York State Department of Transportation and the Metro North Railroad (MNR) will receive a US$4.4m grant to make accessibility improvements for pedestrians and warning systems upgrades and to implement other safety improvements at five grade crossings located in Dutchess and Putnam Counties on the MNR’s Hudson and Harlem Lines, which have substantial train volumes.

Fourth, the New York State Department of Transportation and the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) will receive a US$14.9m grant for work on nine grade crossings located in Nassau and Suffolk Counties on the LIRR’s Central, Main Line and West Hempstead Branches, including interconnection to traffic signal systems, updates to railroad flashing light signals, installation of audible warning devices, enhanced pedestrian treatments and pathways, signs and pavement markings for vehicles approaching the grade crossing and roadway resurfacing and sidewalk expansion.

And lastly, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) will receive a US$15m grant to install gates, add pavement markings, and make other improvements at 22 highway-railway grade crossings in Philadelphia and in Bucks, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties on its regional commuter rail system which shares significant trackage with freight carriers.

The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law continues funding for the FHWA Rail-Highway Crossings Program at US$245m per year for the next five years. It also added several flexibilities including a higher Federal share and improved set-aside allowances such as increasing allocations for data collection and projects beyond protective devices. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also clarifies that funds are eligible for projects to reduce trespassing at rail crossings. In addition, the law increased Highway Safety Improvement Program funding by 34%, under which rail crossings safety improvements are eligible.

Additionally, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law also provides US$3bn over five years to improve safety at highway-railway crossings. Under a new Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program, FRA will fund many types of projects including closures, track relocations, grade separations, as well as improvement or installation of warning devices at crossings if related to a separation or relocation.  In addition, FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure & Safety Improvements also provides funding to eligible grade crossing safety projects.

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