Cambridge city officials are continuing to seek state funding to reduce the traffic disruption caused by railroad car transfers near the intersection of the railroad tracks and Highway 95.
City Administrator Evan Vogel and City Engineer Todd Blank came before members of the Minnesota State Senate Bonding Committee to make a pitch for an estimated $900,000 project that would move the Federated Propane rail switch a quarter-mile south of its current location. Vogel and Blank traveled to Pine City to make their pitch to the committee, who was in the middle of a state-wide tour seeking input into potential projects in need of state funding.
According to Vogel, this would reduce the number of times propane cars have to go back-and-forth at that intersection from eight times to two times. Vogel said the current situation causes significant delays for commuters, and also raises public safety concerns.
“Ten to 15 times a day we’ll see trains come through – and particularly if those are the propane tankers, it can take anywhere from 10 to 20 to 60 minutes while they go back and forth over the tracks eight times,” Vogel said. “That obviously creates a headache for anyone who gets stuck in line, and it presents bigger headaches to any potential emergency that we may have in town, as our first responders have to go between a half-mile and three-quarters mile north or south to cross Highway 65 and get on to the other side of town.”
He noted that all of the city’s emergency services are on the west side of the tracks, though much of the city’s population and business development is on the east side.
“When we’re faced with this situation of these trains coming through, I think if we had a police officer in a physical altercation and needing backup [or] if we had our firefighters trying to respond to a medical situation where somebody was not breathing for a period of three to five minutes, that [delay] compounds that ... emergency.”
“Our fire department serves a significant portion of the townships to the east as well,” added City Engineer Todd Blank. “Even getting on the major highways to get out there, there’s significant logistic hurdles for them.”
“And then there’s just the challenge that it presents to local business,” Vogel said. “If you’re on the west side of the town, you can’t get to our big box stores, or a lot of our drive-through restaurants. If you’re on the east side of town, you can’t get over to our small downtown local businesses that really need the support.”
Vogel said Federated Propane currently has about $15 million in assets in the Cambridge area, and that they would be putting about $300,000 toward the project.
Blank said that BNSF, which owns the railroad tracks, is supportive of the project, although they have committed no funds to it.
Highway 95 widening
Vogel acknowledged that the city has a plan to widen Highway 95 from two to four lanes between Highway 65 and Cypress Street S, and is asking the state for $6 million for that project. However, that road-widening project would not relieve the traffic issues caused by the propane cars.
One senator on the bonding committee said that the city’s high-priority request for the state to pay $6 million for road-widening made this additional request a lower-priority issue, and encouraged the city to take on the $900,000 project on their own rather than wait for state bonding.
Vogel said that doing so would cause an 18% increase in the city levy.