Petition organizer happy with Benson crossing move

But says council needs to communicate better with residents

The District of Houston has a plan to increase safety at the Benson Ave. CN rail crossing but needs financial assistance to make it happen. (Houston Today photo)

The Houston resident who organized a 400-plus signature petition urging the District of Houston to move forward in increasing safety at the Benson Ave. CN Rail level crossing is happy the project is on the books for 2021.

But Ron Harris says it shouldn’t have taken a petition in the first place for residents to make their views known.

Harris first presented his petition of approximately 430 signatures to council in early December and was at the Jan. 7 council meeting when it was brought up again.

“You could say yes, I’m satisfied but there has to be another way for the District to communicate with residents,” said Harris after last week’s council meeting.

“When you consider there are 3,000 people or more in the area and you take 1,000 kids or so out of that, the 430 people who signed the petition gives you a pretty good idea of what the community feels,” he said.

Harris also suggested the District use some of a $4.486 million one-time provincial grant received last year for the Benson project. The District has committed some of that amount already and has the remainder in reserve.

“Perhaps suggested projects could be put to a vote to see what residents would agree to or not,” he said.

Harris said the District has been aware for years that the Benson Ave. crossing has been of a significant concern to residents.

“A train accident or derailment at the Benson Ave. crossing puts the entire community at risk, so doing everything possible to mitigate the risk is the responsibility of you, the Mayor, and council of Houston,” the petition states.

Harris noted that approximately 60 homes are located across the tracks as well as the community’s water treatment plant, meaning all would be vulnerable should there be an accident or derailment at the crossing.

He said rail traffic will only increase in the years ahead as more freight moves in and out of the port at Prince Rupert.

For its part, the District has been speaking with CN for years about the Benson crossing, the last time being meeting with CN officials at the Union of BC Municipalities convention in Vancouver.

Council at the Jan. 7 meeting restated its placing of the Benson project on its 2021 work plan with the intention of applying to a federal Transport Canada program which provides 50 per cent of the cost of rail crossing safety improvements.

District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck added that council has allocated the remaining half, $315,000, from the District’s own resources.

“Staff are working with CN Rail to prepare the grant application to Transport Canada,” said Pinchbeck.

The District had earlier commissioned a study into safety improvements needed at the crossing. That study came back with an estimated cost of $610,000 for those improvements.

“In order to meet [new] requirements, the crossing will need to be upgraded from the current active warning system of flashing lights and bells to a flashing lights, bells and gate system,” the study noted.

“The issue of trespassing must also be resolved by extending and installing new fences along with the installation of No Trespassing signs,” the study added.

People crossing tracks on foot come from the residential development to the north of the crossing and while a fence exists along the south edge of the tracks, there is no fence for the north side of the track.

“Moreover, the south side fence will require extension to prohibit and discourage trespassing,” the study continued.

Elsewhere in the northwest, CN has received federal financing for level crossing safety projects.

Last year it received $157,000 for a $314,000 project to install gates and other measures at a level crossing where the CN spur line to Kitimat crosses a road near Terrace.

That project is scheduled to go ahead this spring.

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