Petition organizer pleased with upcoming rail safety project

Benson Ave. crossing improvements badly needed, he says

District of Houston file photo

The local resident who organized a petition a year and a half ago urging the District of Houston to install safety gates at the Benson Ave. level rail crossing is happy it is finally going ahead.

“Very pleased. It’s something that’s badly needed,” said Ron Harris upon hearing word the federal government is providing the District with a grant of $408,368 to finance the majority of the cost of installing a gate system and accompanying lights.

It was Harris who presented council in Dec. 2019 with a petition of more than 400 names citing the urgent need to improve safety measures at the crossing.

Any kind of accident or other incident that would block traffic over the tracks there threatens the approximately 60 homes on the north side of the tracks, the District’s own water treatment plant and a number of businesses, he said.

“They’d be trapped,” Harris added. “Anything there is an improvement.”

“Now with the train traffic getting busier, this was very important,” he added of the project.

The District’s own briefing notes prepared for discussions with CN and various other officials over the years substantiated the Harris petition.

“… When trains block these rail crossings, emergency services are unable to reach the north side of Houston, meaning residents are unable to receive assistance from police, fire and ambulance services. This is especially dangerous because of the amount of heavy industry located in the north side industrial zone,” one District briefing note stated leading up to a meeting with CN.

Harris is also looking forward to other parts of the overall safety improvement project — overhead lights at the crossing, a better definition of where the roadway is compared to the heritage Anglican church parking lot and extended fencing down the rail line to prevent pedestrian access.

He keyed on those project aspects, particularly the fencing, as a step toward eventually having trains blow their whistles at the crossing

“We hear them every night,” said Harris. “They do lay on their horn.”

As much as Harris is anticipating the Benson level crossing safety improvements, he has a few more items he wishes council would undertake.

One is a regular traffic light coming out of the mall parking lot by the 7-11. People turning onto the highway now have to wait until the highway is clear but a regular stop light there would make it much better, he said.

“I personally would rather see them address more safety issues instead of beautification,” he added.

Harris is also leery of District plans for a new community hall and new fire hall, saying he’d rather have the District build up its finances before going too deep into spending commitments.

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