Plans to improve the Oxnard rail crossing where an abandoned vehicle caused a fatal Metrolink derailment last year got a boost Tuesday when the Federal Railroad Administration announced a $1.5 million grant to fund the engineering and design of a traffic bridge.
The future of the project to separate passenger and freight vehicles from the busy rail line is still in doubt because local agencies, including the city of Oxnard and the Ventura County Transportation Commission, would have to come up with about 20% of the estimated $45 million cost to qualify for state and federal funds.
Darren Kettle, executive director of the commission, said transportation officials are weighing a half-cent sales tax measure on the November ballot to fund the crossing and other projects. A decision will be made in the next month or two, Kettle said.
Kettle said the project was part of the commission’s Comprehensive Transportation Plan approved in 2013. But the need for it was highlighted by the February 2015, crash.
“It had been something we talked about and planned for, but its profile grew with that particular accident,” he said.
The accident occurred when a truck driver made a wrong turn at the crossing and abandoned his vehicle on the tracks. A Metrolink train struck the truck, causing it to derail. The engineer was killed and 33 passengers were injured.
The Federal Railroad Administration said the crossing has seen 13 accidents with two fatalities since 1976.
“We know what we need to do,” Kettle said. “The state and federal funds that come to Ventura County aren’t enough to do it all.”
Rice Avenue is the primary route for freight to and from Port Hueneme. About 35,000 vehicles cross daily. Annually, 1,820 Metrolink trains, 3,129 Amtrak intercity trains and 4,368 freight trains cross, the railroad administration said.
The grant announced Tuesday at a news conference will go to the California Department of Transportation to fund local agencies to design a six-lane bridge with sidewalks and bike lanes. The 800-foot bridge will cross the Union Pacific tracks and State Route 34.
Last year, railroad administration launched a campaign to reverse the recent uptick in railroad crossing fatalities. Collisions between trains and vehicles at the crossings are the second-leading cause of all railroad-related fatalities, according to a statement released by the railroad administration. In 2015, 244 individuals died in these collisions, down from 264 in 2014.