County opposes closure of rail crossing

Jefferson County expressed its opposition to the closure of the Gem Lane-Culver Highway rail crossing in a letter.

HOLLY M. GILL - A July 2016 accident involving a pickup truck and a Burlington Northern train at the intersection of Gem Lane and the Culver Highway, which killed one and injured several, spurred discussion about closing the rail crossing
In a letter to the Oregon Department of Transportation, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners has expressed its opposition to the possibility of closure of the railroad crossings at either Southwest Gem or Highland lanes.

The letter was in response to an ODOT proposal that might have closed the Gem Lane railroad crossing, which is commonly used to access the Cove Palisades Park from Highway 361, as well as by Culver area farmers.

On Dec. 7, about 75 Culver area residents turned out for an evening meeting to discuss three options presented by ODOT for the railroad crossings in the Culver area.

According to Gary Farnsworth, Region 4 manager for ODOT, the options included:

1 - Realigning the Culver Highway at the intersection, and improving Gem Lane with a new signal and gate at an estimated cost of $2.5 million.

2 - Realigning Gem Lane with a new signal and gate at a cost of about $3.1 million.

3 - Closing Gem Lane and putting new signals with gates at the Southwest Dover Lane, Southwest Eureka Lane and Southwest Highland Lane railroad crossings, in addition to paving Highland from the Culver Highway (Highway 361) to Southwest Feather Drive, at a projected total cost of $1.6 million.

"We understand that without a closure of Gem Lane or Highland Lane that no improvements will be pursued for Highland Lane, Eureka Lane, or Dover Lane," the letter stated.

Farnsworth identified a two-phase improvement that will likely be pursued.

In phase 1, they would signalize and add crossing arms only at Gem Lane. Under phase 2, ODOT would reconstruct the Gem Lane approach grades and improve the crossing safety at the Culver Highway/Gem Lane intersection.

"Turn lanes at the Culver Highway/Gem Lane intersection may also be considered to improve overall safety related to the crossing," Farnsworth said after the meeting.

While it would be outside ODOT Rail and Public Transit's jurisdiction, the county stated that it "supports an evaluation and consideration of potential changes in roadway signing and mapping to optimize guidance and consistency for travelers going to Culver, Three Rivers, or Lake Billy Chinook."

In the letter, the county added that it would also like ODOT to consider "peripheral and crossing safety-related opportunities, such as geometry and lane configurations on the Culver Highway legs of the intersection approached."