benson crossing

District ups spending for Benson CN crossing improvements

Gates, new lights to be installed

The District of Houston is dipping into its general surplus account to come up with its portion of the money needed for the Benson Ave. rail crossing safety upgrade project.

Although the federal government is coming up with the lion’s share of the cost — $408,368 — that was based on it contributing a maximum of 80 per cent of an earlier estimate.

The District is responsible for any and all costs over the project’s eventual total cost and now with a price tag at a higher estimate of $530,717, the District was short $46,792 from its original commitment. That figure includes a five per cent budget contingency.

Council at its June 1 meeting authorized the additional expenditure, setting in motion to formally contract out the work to CN.

“Although there is potential to request additional contributions via [Transport Canada’s] Rail Safety Improvement Program or [a] CNR assumption of increased costs, staff do not recommend this as a first option given the short timelines necessary to complete the work,” wrote District operations manager Chris Lawrence in a memo.

The project will see safety gates installed and new lights, measures that will meet new standards.

The District, local businesses and residents had been advocating for safety improvements, saying that any situation that resulted in the CN tracks at the crossing being blocked resulted in a safety hazard.

Not part of this year’s work but scheduled to take place next year is fencing at the crossing and overhead lights at the crossing approach.

Combined, those carry a budgeted cost of $213,500 but are contingent upon another successful District of Houston application for a grant to cover 80 per cent of the cost.

The fencing would be built up to the crossing and along the south side, something identified as necessary in District-commissioned assessment of the crossing.

In addition to improved safety, the District also wants to be able to have CN trains stop using whistles when passing through the crossing and fencing forms a critical part of the safety components needed for that to happen.

Residents for years have been urging the District to take measures to stop whistle use, a factor that’s being magnified because of the growth of rail traffic spurred by the development of port facilities at Prince Rupert.