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City, railroad discuss Chapell Drive railroad crossing

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Monett's train station around 100 years ago in the railroad's heyday.
Monett city officials have started talks with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad about upgrading the crossing at Chapell Drive.

According to City Administrator Dennis Pyle, concern has been growing for months about the condition of the Chapell Drive crossing, where wooden ties are still in use. The city would like to see the crossing upgraded to the same kind of concrete crossing that city motorists used to have at Central Avenue.

The crossing seems to have last been improved when the low water bridge on Chapell Drive was replaced in 1990. Previously the upgrade topic came up, at which time the railroad suggested putting in a rubberized grade, a top-of-the-line improvement. Utilities Superintendent Pete Rauch said the city was asked to pay for the improvement and the discussion stopped.

"The crossing as it is now is not tolerable," Pyle said.

An even higher upgrade that has come up would be to replace the crossing with a bridge. Engineer Kevin Sprenkle has made a preliminary design for a bridge that would descend at about an 8 percent grade. Sprenkle estimated the bridge would cost $2.37 million, compared to the bridges over the tracks at Eisenhower Street and Clear Creek which cost $1.85 million.

Repairing the crossing would fall to the railroad's roadmaster in Springfield, Jeremy Houchin. According to Rauch, who also serves on the Monett Special Road District commission, Houchin did not have any upgrades at the crossing scheduled in the next two years.

Minor repairs were scheduled at the crossing in June. Pyle decided to wait to see what improvements were made before holding more detailed talks with the railroad. When the work was finished, no noticeable improvement was evident to motorists.

"Anyone driving over the crossing knows it's not as good as it could be," Pyle said.

According to traffic estimates, 3,710 vehicles a day cross the railroad at Chapell Drive, many of which are trucks. The Eisenhower bridge sees about 2,600 vehicles a day, which the viaduct on Highway 37 carries 7,872 vehicles a day, by a count made this year by the Missouri Department of Transportation. The Centennial Overpass bridge at Kyler Street carries over 10,000 vehicles a day.

Rauch estimated many vehicles use the Kyler Street bridge that would use Chapell Drive to avoid getting stuck by a passing train. Around 30 trains a day pass through Monett.

Last Friday members of the Monett City Council and Pyle met with Cheryl Townlian, special projects manager for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, to explore options. Townlian said it was possible to advance getting a concrete crossing.

Typically the railroad asks cities to pay 80 percent of the cost to upgrade a crossing, Townlian said. However, as the conversation progressed, Townlian said an arrangement could be made where the city was responsible for the asphalt approach, the cost of the concrete crossing itself and traffic control during repairs.

"Our cost would be well below 80 percent," Pyle said.

Money paid to the city for closing the Central Avenue crossing could be used as the city's share of the cost. The end result would look like the old crossing at Central but would be more complicated to install, because the tracks at Chapell Drive are at different heights to accommodate a curve.

An upgraded crossing would be 28 feet wide, two feet wider on each side than the roadway itself. Work would take three to five days to finish, during which the crossing would be closed. Work would typically be done by Burlington Northern crews.

Pyle praised the cooperation Townlian has given the city. She said putting a concrete crossing in place could be scheduled for next spring.

No serious talks between the city and the railroad about building a bridge at Chapell Drive have started.

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