City to spend $20,000 studying crossing options

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Benson will spend $20,000 in the coming months to study options for reducing the public safety hazard and general inconvenience of trains blocking the three city downtown crossings.
The city is putting in $10,000 and asking Swift County to match that.
In its 2014 budget, the Swift County Board of Commissioners set aside $25,000 to create the  “Swift Planning Grant” fund. The purpose of the fund is to encourage cities and townships in the county to complete comprehensive or strategic planning activities. Grants of up to $10,000 can be requested.
The City of Appleton has already been approved for a $10,000 grant to develop its comprehensive plan.
Council members agreed that the problem of trains blocking the tracks in Benson, and blocking emergency vehicles, is an issue important to residents of the county as well as the city.
The study, to be completed by Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., of St. Paul, will look at options for vehicle traffic as well as pedestrian and bicycle traffic.  It will look at options that involve solutions for the three current downtown crossings as well as new crossings, or crossings close to the city.
The city has had discussions with Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), the National Surface Transportation Board, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation about the problems caused by trains blocking the tracks. However, until the city can provide real fact-based solutions to the problems it faces, discussions aren’t likely to go anywhere, City Manage Rob Wolfington told the city council at its meeting Monday night.
Currently, the city’s solution to extended blockages has been issuing BNSF tickets. State law says that a railroad company can’t block a crossing for more than 10 minutes.  However, the city and BNSF will be in 8th Judicial District Court in Willmar Thursday as the railroad challenges the city’s authority to issue it tickets. BNSF will claim that it is governed by federal law under interstate commerce authority and that neither the city nor state laws apply to it.

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