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Bridge wanted over Metrolink crash site, but there's no money to build it

A rendering of a $35 million bridge that would lift Rice Avenue over East 5th Street (State Route 34) and Union Pacific Railroad tracks, site of a recent Metrolink train collision with a truck.
Ventura County Transportation Commission
A rendering of a $35 million bridge that would lift Rice Avenue over East 5th Street (State Route 34) and Union Pacific Railroad tracks, site of a recent Metrolink train collision with a truck.

Local governments in Ventura County have long wanted to build a bridge over the railroad tracks where a Metrolink train hit a truck Tuesday in Oxnard, but none has come up with the $35 million needed to make it a reality.

The Federal Railroad Administration ranks the Rice Avenue crossing of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks as the riskiest in Ventura County, the 23rd worst in the state.  A dozen train-vehicle crashes have occurred since 2003 at that crossing, where tracks are at street level.

The proposed bridge would carry Rice Avenue over East 5th Street (also known as State Route 34) and the railroad tracks.

Several jurisdictions have an interest in seeing the bridge built, said Darren Kettle, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

The north end of the bridge is in the city of Oxnard, which is the lead agency for the construction.

"It's going to come down in unincorporated area in Ventura County. It will be crossing not just the railroad tracks, but also State Highway 34 a Caltrans highway, so collaboration is going to be imperative to make this project happen," Kettle said.

The bridge would also help speed truck and train traffic coming from the nearby Port of Hueneme.

The commission has given Oxnard $1.76 million dollars for preliminary engineering and environmental work.

"If money were no object we could see a project on the ground and commuters and trucks using it within six to seven years," Kettle said.

But money is the obstacle.

Ventura County voters rejected a half-cent sales tax in 2004 that would have funded new transportation projects like this. Kettle said the commission might try for a new tax measure next year.

Riverside, San Bernardino, Orange and Los Angeles counties all charge a half-cent sales tax that produces billions of dollars for railroad grade separations and other improvements.

Jason Samonte, Oxnard's city traffic engineer, said, "I don't see us going for a sales tax for this, we'll go after grant funding."  Possible sources include county, state and federal governments and the Port of Hueneme. State and federal gas taxes might also be a source of the grants, he said.

With a 17.8 percent probability of a train-vehicle crash per year, the Rice Ave. crossing was the 13th riskiest in the six Southern California counties served by Metrolink trains, according to a ranking by the National Railroad Administration. The crash probability is based on an analysis of traffic, the train crossing's operating characteristics -- like guard barriers, signals and bells -- and on five years of accident data.

But ten other locations in Metrolink's six-county service area present a higher risk of train-vehicle collisions. (The service area includes Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura and North San Diego.)

The highest risk is at Union Pacific Railroad crossing at Nogales Street in Los Angeles, with a 59.8 percent probability of a vehicle-train collision each year. That crossing had eight collisions in the five years ending in 2013.

By county, here are the ten train crossings with a higher risk of collision than Rice Avenue in Ventura.

Los Angeles County
Union Pacific tracks at Nogales Street in Los Angeles
Burlington Northern tracks at Rosecrans in Santa Fe Springs
Union Pacific tracks at Palmdale Blvd. in Palmdale
Union Pacific tracks at Fairway Drive in Los Angeles
Union Pacific tracks at Los Nietos Road in Santa Fe Springs
Metrolink tracks at Vineland Ave. in Los Angeles

Orange County
Metrolink tracks at La Palma Ave. in Anaheim
Metrolink tracks at Grand Ave. in Anaheim

Burlington Northern tracks at Chicago Ave. in Riverside
Burlington Northern tracks at Adams St. in Riverside

Top 30 riskiest train crossings within six Southern California counties

WBAPS_2015224144157 Metrolink Counties