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Grade separation fund bills would help communities with frequently-blocked train crossings

Street and railroad crossing with lights and signs.
Emma Winowiecki
Michigan Radio

The state Senate has unanimously passed bills meant to solve a persistent problem in some Michigan communities: blocked train crossings.

The legislation would create a grade separation fund that local governments could apply to, with a 20% match. It would fund building bridges or underpasses at rail crossings where freight trains frequently block traffic, sometimes for hours at a time.

State Senator Darrin Camilleri, a Democrat from Trenton, has been pushing similar legislation for years, and hopes the House acts quickly on it.

“My hope is to get this across the finish line fairly soon so that we can not only see this legislation enacted quickly, but we can also put money into it during the budget process,” he said.

Camilleri said blocked rail crossings are more than an inconvenience — they pose a genuine public safety threat.

“We see situations where fire trucks are not being able to get to a house burning down,” he said. “Police officers can't get to emerging public safety situations. People in ambulances have died on the way to the hospital because of trains.”

Camilleri said it’s a particular problem in communities with a lot of manufacturing, including his own Downriver district. “There are some of the biggest rail yards for these companies in North America in our backyard, and they’re moving product,” he said. “And while they're moving product, they're just blocking up roads for several miles outside of the railyard itself. And this is the only solution that we have outside of the federal government choosing to regulate them differently.”

The legislation also outlines which communities should be given priority when applying for the fund. Camilleri said a state House committee is expected to take up the bills this week.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.