Last week Governor Dayton released a rail safety proposal that would seek to address rail safety concerns across Minnesota. Since rail safety has been a hot topic in Crystal lately I thought I would take a look at what the rail safety proposal would mean for Crystal.
Earlier this week I spoke with Joanna Dornfeld, Governor Dayton’s Assistant Chief of Staff for transportation issues, to answer some of the questions I had about the plan. Much of what I will write here came from that conversation.
First, it’s important to note that the Governor’s proposal is the result of community meetings that were held last year, and a rail safety survey that was completed before the proposed CP/BNSF connector project in Crystal was on the radar. If the connector project were to move forward, that would most likely change what happens in regards to other projects in Crystal. For the purposes of this review, we’ll assume a status quo where there is no CP/BNSF connection.
The Governor’s proposal identified 75 “high priority” railroad crossings across the state, with two of those being in Crystal: the CP crossings at Broadway Ave and Douglas Drive. According to the study, those crossings were rated as “Adequate/Improvable,” meaning that the crossings have adequate safety measures (cants and gates) but could be improved to be even safer, by adding additional safety measures such as medians.
All 75 projects on the list would be funded by a new state-level assessment on railroads of $33 million per year. The total list of 75 would cost about $330 million, so the idea would be to implement these upgrades over the period of 10 years.
It’s not known yet the order in which the projects would be addressed. I did ask if we should expect that Crystal would be at the latter end of the 10 year cycle because our crossings were rated as “adequate” but the answer was “not necessarily” because the scheduling of projects can be dependent on many other factors such as construction crew availability, railroad cooperation, other projects planned in the same area, etc.
Another part of the Governor’s proposal would change the way that property tax is calculated on railroad owned property. The result would be an increase in property taxes paid by the railroad to the city. The estimated amount of increase in revenue for Crystal would be about $26,000 per year.
In order to capture the additional revenue Crystal would need to increase our levy by the same amount. If we did not, the increase paid by the railroads would offset taxes paid by other commercial businesses.
Revenue generated by this proposal would be general fund revenue for the city, and would not necessarily be dedicated to rail safety measures.
The Governor’s proposal is seeking to fund 4 grade separations in other parts of the state through bonding, though none in Crystal. Separate from the Governor’s rail safety proposal, a bonding request has been made for a grade separation for the crossing at Douglas Drive in the MN Senate by Senator Ann Rest and in the MN House by Reps Carlson and Freiberg.
There are other details of the Governor’s proposal at this link, including the creation of a new Rail Office Director, more quiet zones, and training for first responders.
Thanks to Ms. Dornfeld at the Governor’s office for answering all my questions about this proposal, and to Rep Freiberg for connecting me with Ms. Dornfeld.