In the last month the Wheeling and Lake Erie railroad tracks that run behind (and serve) the Star of the West Mill in downtown Kent were raised about 4′ as part of the Crain/Fairchild Avenue bridge project. This makes for a little roller coaster effect at the existing Crain Avenue bridge but that will go away once traffic is turned over to the new bridge and the old bridge is in turn torn down and replaced with the new hike and bike trail bridge.
As the transition from the old Crain Avenue bridge to the new Fairchild Avenue bridge work continues, the raising of the tracks was a critical milestone that is good example of how many moving parts there are to this large and complex project.
At the risk of oversimplifying, follow me for a minute: the City’s bridge design engineer had to gain the support of Wheeling and Lake Erie Railroad to lift their (upper) tracks 4 feet so that the superstructure of the new roadway bridge would be high enough over CSX’s lower tracks to allow CSX to progress with their National Gateway Project which commits to having double stack capabilities for the rail that runs thru downtown Kent all the way down to Wilmington North Carolilna.
Wheeling and Lake Erie had to be assured that their business clients that they serve along those tracks — particularly Star of the West Mill in downtown Kent — would not be adversely effected, so the City had to design around some very specific rail transportation needs for Star of the West while assuring the neighboring businesses around the mill that raising the tracks was going to work for their business as well.
Then, the City first had to coordinate the construction of these plans with all of the utility companies that criss-cross below the bridge and use the rail corridor as conduits for their utilities, and then with ODOT and their bridge contractor (and don’t forget all their respective sub-contractors) to make sure that everybody hit all the elevations at all the right times so that the of their individual pieces of the project line up and come together within the very narrow space allotted to each element of the project. There’s nothing worse than a blown elevation and this project had Himalayan-esque elevations to deal with.
Throw in the fact that this is perhaps the busiest traffic intersection in the City, and it runs above the busiest rail corridor in the mid-west, and you get a flavor for how unbelievably constrained the project was for the folks tasked with making it happen. That’s why there was a collective sense of relief last week — at least for 5 minutes until it was on to the next 6,547 milestones (my number, not the engineers) left to hit before this project will officially be complete.
As noted above, one of the main drivers of the engineering behind the new bridge was accomodating the CSX National Gateway Project. The Project is touted as one of the most significant transportation investments in decades. I’m fairly certain that there were many headaches added to the City’s bridge project because of the CSX project but admittedly, long-term, the Gateway project will significantly increase rail capacity that serves Kent, and to that end, a few headaches in the name of progress is probably worth it.
The impacts of the CSX Gateway project isn’t limited to the Crain Avenue bridge, it will also be seen in the Middlebury Road railroad corridor, and further up the Lake Street/Riverbend rail corridor, as CSX and it’s contractors will have to elevate additional structures along the tracks that currently limit overhead clearance. Here’s some more information from the CSX National Gateway website that gives a description of all the work they plan to do from Ohio to North Carolina to complete their $700 million investment (approximately $21 million in Kent).
The National Gateway project will improve the flow of rail traffic throughout the nation by increasing the use of double-stack trains, creating a more efficient rail route that links Mid-Atlantic ports with Midwestern markets.
Innovation and modernizations within the rail industry have made railroads the most efficient way to transport freight. Shipping by rail delivers benefits to both consumers and other businesses within the supply chain. Trains can move one ton of freight nearly 500 miles on a single gallon of fuel and one train can carry the load of 280 trucks1. Double-stack trains traveling along the National Gateway can deliver twice as many goods on one trip, resulting in improved efficiency and cost savings.
This award-winning public-private partnership will strengthen our nation’s economy and improve our environment through investment in freight rail infrastructure. The National Gateway will create over 50,000 jobs and is supported by a broad and diverse group of 336 public and private sector organizations and individuals, including Big Lots!, UPS and The Limited.
The National Gateway is expected to cost $842 million and the public funds committed to the project are matched by $395 million in private funding. Every dollar of public money invested in the National Gateway creates $35 in public benefits.
Learn more about the infrastructure updates supported by the National Gateway initiative:
Industry-wide upgrades will enable the use of double-stacked trains, improving overall transportation efficiency.
As a result of population growth and development, our nation has become increasingly reliant on rail and highway infrastructure to transport people and freight.
The National Gateway will benefit U.S. transportation infrastructure by clearing routes between the Mid Atlantic and Midwest.
It’s probably worth noting that for the CSX projects in Kent, the City has no regulatory authority over the railroads, so if there are some questions or concerns with one element of the project or another, residents may actually have more success trying to work directly with the railroad (through the web site or the contractors on site) than working through the City. We’re certainly happy to help in any way we can through our contacts at CSX but we’ve found the railroads often react more quickly with local residents than the City.