Trying to avoid off-road vehicle collisions with trains in a popular recreation area, the Imperial County Transportation Commission is seeking a way to create safer crossings in the Glamis area along State Route 78.
By statute off-roaders can cross but are not allowed to ride on a state road, Mark Baza, commission executive director, explained at a Feb. 27 meeting. Even more of a hazard are off-roaders trying to cross the Union Pacific railroad tracks that pass through Glamis and bisect the sand dunes that attract tens of thousands of riders.
“A couple of years back there were three children killed when their OHV got stuck on the tracks,” said Baza. “So, we’re looking at potential crossings, probably use a type of underground crossing as opposed to a bridge since it is less expensive.”
Since 2009 Union Pacific removed three over-track crossings when it implemented a double track system, explained Nicole Gilles, American Sands Association executive director. The association is among the organizations fighting to keep the Imperial Sand Dunes Recreation Area open to off-road use.
Also, an underground crossing at Wash 10 existed for 10 years but was eliminated with double tracking. Since then, off-roaders have been seeking an alternative.
“There are a series of trails east of the tracks and if you’re camping in the dunes and want to use those trails you must go south of SR-78 to Ogilby Road to cross, that’s 17 miles,” said Gilles. “We don’t know why they closed the crossings, so ASA’s attorney filed a complaint with the California Public Utilities commission last September.”
Since 2009 a series of meetings were held between ASA, Union Pacific and Imperial County but reached no resolution. Recently an administrative law judge was appointed to broker an alternative dispute resolution process, noted Gilles.
“Were hoping for a solution before next season (October),” said Gilles. “Actually, this is pretty quick to set up because it can take years. So, this is a positive for those who recreate in the dunes.”
Union Pacific has authority to grant where the crossings shall be placed and will have input on the lead agency that will negotiate the location.
“We’ll have to determine who that’ll (lead agency) be,” said Baza. “The dunes are under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. But if the crossing is adjacent to or a part of the state highway it’ll be Caltrans (California Department of Transportation). A study will be underway soon. We could do the project in two phases. But ideally we’d like to secure all funding first then hire just one contractor.”
In other business, the commission unanimously approved efforts to accelerate cross-border manufacturing and agricultural trade. To achieve that goal planning has begun to widen the bridge over the All-American Canal at the Calexico East Port of Entry. There is $1.84 million available from a five-percent Local Transportation Authority regional highway set-aside fund that comes through the Measure D sales tax that funds road improvements.
The commission must first complete an environmental impact and engineering report expected to be done by May 2020. Once finished, it can get approval for $20 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation that is earmarked for the project.
Construction is expected to begin in February 2021 and completed by November 2022. The aim is to add two northbound lanes for trucks and two for cars. The intent is to relieve peak traffic usage that can tie up motorists for two to three hours.
“Manufacturers and agricultural producers try to maximize their shipping by getting two or three trips per day,” said Baza. “There’s $16 billion of import/exports going through going through the east POE. So, four more lanes can make a substantial difference. And there are 50,000 people who cross to shop, work and recreate daily.”