Bradley Withdraws Railroad Bill : City Hopes to Reach Agreement on Rubberized Crossings

Times Staff Writer

Saying the measure had succeeded in "getting their attention," Assemblyman Bill Bradley (R-San Marcos) on Wednesday dropped a bill that sought to settle an ongoing feud between the City of San Diego and the railroads over new grade crossings.

The Bradley bill would have forced railroads to share added costs for installing smooth-riding rubberized track crossings on city streets.

Bradley said he dropped the measure at the suggestion of the City of San Diego, which has been in a yearlong tug of war with Santa Fe-Southern Pacific Corp. over plans to install the more-expensive materials at nearly half of the 50 railroad crossings in the city.

Dropping the bill "is an indication of our willingness to continue . . . good-faith negotiations," said Scott Harvey, the city's intergovernmental relations director.

But city officials said they may still try to get another measure through the Legislature this year if talks break down.

Bradley's bill had been slated for a hearing before the Assembly Utilities and Commerce Committee on Wednesday.

Rubberized crossings last longer and are cheaper to maintain than asphalt or wooden ones. They also reduce the chance of accidents, for which both cities and railroads might be liable. But the crossings cost at least three times more than wooden ones and are far more expensive than the asphalt version.

City officials say railroads have a financial stake and thus should share in the added expense of putting in the smoother-riding crossings. But under guidelines set down by the state Public Utilities Commission more than a decade ago--when rubber crossing were virtually non-existent--cities and counties buy the materials and railroads install and maintain them.

In essence, that arrangement split the costs of new grade crossings about 50-50. It is only fair now, even though the crossings are much more costly, that railroads pay their half share, city officials say.

But railroads, particularly those operating in Southern California, have generally resisted.

For the handful of rubber crossing installed in San Diego so far, almost all of the added cost has been borne by the city, Harvey said.

Bradley said railroads now appear willing to resume discussions over costs if the city will reassess the number of crossings it wants to upgrade. City legislative analyst Sue Metzger said there are no specific plans, but city engineers have suggested 22 crossings that should be upgraded over the next nine years.

If an agreement is reached promptly, Metzger said, the engineers would recommend that rubber crossings be installed this year at Pacific Highway and Washington Street; Market and India streets, and the three-way intersection of 28th Street, Harbor Drive and Main Street.

Metzger said the city has also been exploring other sources of financing the improvements, including state funds approved by the Legislature last year for improving local streets and roads.

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