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Rail grade separation bills signed into law

MDOT regulates safety devices at public railroad crossings.
Michigan Department of Transportation
MDOT regulates safety devices at public railroad crossings.

Michigan communities could soon have a new way of funding under- and overpasses so traffic can get around railroad crossings.

A bill package signed into law Tuesday would create a new grant program within the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) to provide money for those projects.

State Senator Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) co-sponsored the package. He said freight trains can block traffic for long spans of time.

“There are some individuals who can’t get to work on time, parents have difficulty dropping their kids off to school. But, more importantly, emergency services have a difficult time getting to dangerous situations,” Camilleri said.

While the legislation would give local governments help with funding projects, the program likely wouldn’t cover the full cost. Before receiving money, grant recipients would have to detail to MDOT how they plan to match at least 20% of the project’s cost.

That would come from sources like local, federal, and private spending.

“If we could at least have at least one project per year be in progress, that would help us create a system that we know we’re going to be working on one of these every single year for the next five, 10 years or more,” Camilleri said.

The budget plan state lawmakers approved last month puts $10 million toward “highest priority” rail grade separation. It also puts $20 million toward a specific project in Trenton, in Camilleri’s district.

While his bill in the newly signed package would create the grant program, Representative Jaime Churches (D-Wyandotte)’s bill would detail what kinds of projects should be prioritized.

Criteria include projects closer to areas like schools, manufacturing facilities, and trauma treatment centers.

Churches said the program can get the ball rolling on potentially lengthy projects.

“This is about being an advocate for the people, identifying a problem and then trying to address the need by creating a table where many people sit together and use their expertise to get things done,” Churches said.

Both lawmakers pointed out the high concentration of railroad crossings in industrial communities downriver from Detroit.

The effort to address stoppages at rail separation spans multiple legislative sessions, according to Michigan Railroads Association president Jon Cool.

“Having a public infrastructure solution, a grade separation project, bringing automobile traffic above or under a rail line is good public policy, it’s a bipartisan issue,” he said.

Cool said he looks forward to the Legislature putting more funding toward that area.

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