Even with increased efforts during the past decade, 40% of North Carolina's at-grade railroad-highway crossings remain unprotected by mechanical warning devices. The NCDOT, in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration, is working to "signalize" those unprotected crossings. The average cost of each project is between $170,000 to $200,000.
Some facts about NC's crossings . . .
There are 322 inactive public grade crossings.
822 public crossings are grade separated.
There are 3,003 private at-grade crossings.
Information on each crossing is updated annually. The 300 or so crossings with the highest indexes are selected as candidates for improvement. Diagnostic teams consisting of engineers examine each crossing under consideration. Based on their recommendations - and available funding - as many crossings as possible are selected and assigned priorities for improvements. Annual funding has averaged $10 million in recent years, with some increase in funding levels provided through the federal Transportation Equity Act. After the selected crossings have been added to the Crossing Hazard Elimination Program, new projects are submitted to the N.C. Board of Transportation for approval as additions to the Transportation Improvement Program.
Where municipal streets rather than state-maintained roads are affected, cities and towns are required to pay 10% of the cost of installing grade-crossing warning devices. (Municipalities and the railroad companies split the cost of maintaining those devices.) Whenever a city or town signs an agreement with the state to participate in a project, the NCDOT will proceed in the same manner as other state road projects. If the municipality decides not to participate, the project will be dropped from the state's transportation improvement program but will remain under observation and consideration by NCDOT for future programming.
Steps to complete a project
NCDOT engineers inspect each new project location and recommend which type of warning devices should be installed: gates, roadside signals, overhead signals (cantilevers), traffic-signal preemption. In some cases, recommendations are made to close a crossing and consolidate its traffic with another adjacent grade crossing or an existing bridge or underpass. Field inspections of new projects are usually completed within three to four months after locations are included in the state's improvement program.
Aerial photographs are then scanned into the state's Computer Aided Drafting and Design (CADD) system and a design is drawn electronically onto the photographs to indicate the proposed crossing improvements. The NCDOT engineers send the design to the railroad company and request fully engineered plans, a materials list and a cost estimate. Turn-around time for receiving the railroad's plans is about four months.
The NCDOT staff reviews the railroad's plan, specifications and engineering package and provides comments - usually within one to two weeks. Sometimes revisions or modifications are necessary. Once the plan is acceptable, an agreement with the railroad company may be developed and executed, stating all of the responsibilities of the NCDOT and the company. The turn-around time for agreements being returned is normally about six weeks. During this time, construction funds are requested for the project. This takes about one month. Also during this time, if the project involves a local street, plans are sent to the municipality for final approval of costs and specifications. Approval takes two weeks to two months, depending on local circumstances.
Highly reflective crossbucks
The new crossbuck signs are designed with reflective material along the 'X' as well as a strip down the post to increase the visibility of the sign.
North Carolina was the second state to install the reflective signs which is now the new federally required minimum standard for all public railroad crossings in the country. The NCDOT furnished the signs, posts and materials for the $250,000 project using state funds for rail safety improvements. The shortlines are responsible for installing and maintaining the signs.
NCDOT will be working with the shortlines on future sign changes, such as the posting of YIELD and STOP signs at crossings as per new federal policy.
Contact: Drew Thomas, PE