City to improve Grandview and Sonora rail crossings

In a step hailed as important by Glendale residents who loathe the noise of train horns, the City Council this week approved putting $9.8-million worth of railway crossing improvements out for bid.

The improvements, slated for the Grandview and Sonora rail crossings along the San Fernando Road industrial corridor, will include improved traffic signals, wider roads and better lighting.

The bid is set to be advertised in May with construction beginning in October, according to a city report. The project is expected to be completed by August 2013.

“It is one step toward creating a quiet zone throughout that area, which I'm sure the residents of Pelanconi are impatiently waiting for,” said Councilman Ara Najarian.

Pelanconi Estates residents, who live near the train tracks, have been especially vocal in their disdain for train horns, which engineers are required to sound before each rail crossing. The neighborhood has long pushed for the stretch of rail to earn so-called quiet-zone status, in which trains passing through do not have to sound their horns because of certain safety improvements, including upgraded signals and impassible vehicle gates, or because crossings have been eliminated altogether.

Even with the planned changes to Grandview and Sonora, those safety enhancements would have to be installed at three other crossings, including a controversial one at Doran Street, to qualify the Glendale stretch for quiet-zone status, officials say.

Glendale and Los Angeles are negotiating over the fate of the Doran Street crossing, which Glendale officials are pushing to close off to street traffic. The two cities have shared jurisdiction over the crossing, which serves as a pass-through for vehicles moving between Glendale and the mostly industrial Los Angeles area.

Glendale wants the crossing closed because of its proximity to an adjacent propane storage and distribution facility, but Los Angeles wants to keep it open for emergency responders.

A tentative agreement on what to do with the crossing has been reached, according to Glendale Public Works Director Steve Zurn, although he declined to elaborate on what it entailed.

“It's encouraging that we've tentatively agreed on a concept,” he said.

Last year, the California Public Utilities Commission suggested in a letter to stakeholders that it was leaning toward closing the crossing, but a final determination isn't expected until November 2013.

Meanwhile, Glendale is working first on railroad crossings in its own jurisdiction, leaving the crossings that span multiple agencies for last, since they take more effort to coordinate. In addition to Doran Street, the multi-agency crossings include Broadway Avenue/Brazil Street and Chevy Chase Drive.

The Doran Street crossing, adjacent to the Ventura (134) Freeway overpass, is considered to be one of the most dangerous in Metrolink's system.

In January, the council approved a $2-million project to improve Broadway/Brazil. Metrolink is also paying a portion of the construction costs there.

About $2 million of the $9.8-million project for Grandview and Sonora comes from redevelopment funds. City officials worried that a state-mandated shutdown of local redevelopment agencies in February would impact the planned railroad enhancements. However, since those projects are considered an enforceable obligation, Zurn said, the city can keep the money for the project.

About $5.2 million of the pot comes from Measure R, a half-cent sales tax approved by Los Angeles County voters in 2008. Most of that will cover improvements in county Metropolitan Transportation Authority's right-of-way. Other funding comes from local gas taxes and Proposition C funding, another half-cent sales tax approved by voters in 1990 for transportation projects.

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