A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

At this bumpy crossing, a fix is in sight

Written March 10th, 2022 by Hasso Hering

The Queen Avenue crossing on Nov. 22, 2021.

Well, here’s a surprise likely to be welcomed by Albany motorists: After planned improvements were delayed year after year, the uneven railroad crossing on Queen Avenue now will be fixed in a matter of months.

The surprise announcement came from Staci Belcastro, the city engineer, on Wednesday night. She was telling the city council about a $350,000 allocation of federal Covid relief funds toward a project to improve Queen Avenue from Pacific Boulevard to Marion Street, scheduled to coincide with ODOT’s plan for crossing improvements next year or in 2024.

The good news, Belcastro said, was that ODOT had a meeting with the Union Pacific and the Portland & Western railroads, resulting in temporary repairs being made sooner.

How much sooner, Councilman Dick Olsen wanted to know. “It might happen next month,” Belcastro said. Or in four to six weeks, she added

For more details, let’s turn to Chris Cerklewski, an engineer in Albany Public Works who is involved in the preparation for the crossing fix.

“The ODOT Rail Division has initiated an interim crossing repair on Queen Avenue since the condition of the crossing surface has deteriorated enough that they don’t want to wait for the permanent changes planned for 2023 or 2024,” he wrote in an email. “The existing asphalt and rubber crossing surfaces will be removed and replaced with new asphalt by the Portland & Western Railroad.”

Whatever this costs will be paid by ODOT. The city will arrange for traffic control when the crossing has to be closed for a few days while the work is done.

There’s no definite date yet, but Cerklewski expects the repairs to be completed “in the next couple of months,” and the city will give the public advance notice when the date is set.

This will be a temporary fix. Permanent repairs are still planned later, to be done in conjunction with the Queen Avenue improvements, which include replacing a water line, resurfacing the pavement, and making curbs at street corners comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The job is estimated to cost $2.7 million, and it’s the project for which the city has been allocated $350,000 in Covid funds by the Albany Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

There are four railroad tracks across Queen. One is the UP main line. The other three are part of the Queen Avenue yard.

For the permanent repairs, Cerklewski says, the three yard tracks will be completely removed and replaced and the UP track will be adjusted to “better match the surface of Queen Avenue. In addition, the railroad crossing signals will be upgraded and sidewalks extended across the tracks to improve safety. ODOT is paying for the permanent repairs as well as handling the design and construction work.”

There have been two reasons for drivers to avoid this crossing if they can: fear of vehicle damage from the bumpy surface, and the likelihood of long delays while the crossing arms are down. Once the repairs are done, there will be only one. (hh)

14 responses to “At this bumpy crossing, a fix is in sight”

  1. D K Campbell says:

    1- Hooray! 2- But when finally smoother, expect an increase in traffic. Many of us simply cross the viaduct and turn south later hoping the extra distance will be better on tires than the crossing has been. 3- How does this relate to Covid and Covid funding? Is this not a redirection of the intention of the funding? 4- I remember when the crossing was repaired a few years ago and wondered why it didn’t last. Let’s hope the temporary resurfacing will not cause the permanent repair to be put off further.

  2. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Covid funds for this?

    Are you referring to the CARES Act?

    If so, those funds are supposed to be used on expenses directly related to Covid-19.

    Are you referring to the American Rescue Plan of 2021?

    If so, those funds are supposed to be used for modern, high-quality transportation projects. Not sure what a capital infrastructure project has to do with Covid relief.

    When a “temporary” crossing qualifies as a “modern, high-quality” infrastructure project, then spending guidelines become virtually meaningless.

    Kinda like saying CARA funds must be limited to fixing “blight”, and then defining “blight” as anything the city council wants it to be.

    Government, at every level, at its finest.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      The AAMPO allocation has nothing to do with fixing the crossing. It relates to the Queen Avenue improvement project from Pacific to Marion. I don’t know how that relates to Covid either, but it’s not the crossing that it will be spent on.

      • Gordon L. Shadle says:

        Thanks for the clarification.

        Perhaps Councilor Ray K can offer an explanation how the $350,000 AAMPO allocation to the permanent project relates to Covid. That should be entertaining.

        And Councilor Ray K is the council expert on transportation so he should know what the estimate for the quick fix will be.

        If he can’t, or won’t, share the amount, ODOT Rail certainly has a budget number they can share with you.

        • Ray Kopczynski says:

          ODOT received COVID relief money from FHWA to help cover revenue losses. ODOT was able to “un-color” a portion of those funds and pass them down to the MPOs to distribute to member jurisdictions to use for transportation projects. There’s a line of reasoning that these funds fill city and county funding “gaps” created by COVID, but that’s not something we explicitly talked about at our AAMPO meetings.

          Our project selection process was fairly informal in nature: AAMPO asked member jurisdictions to identify projects they would like to see funded/projects could use additional funds. We suggested funding amounts for each jurisdiction loosely based on population and requested projects that were already identified in existing plans, knowing they have been vetted/undergone review. We discussed projects with the TAC and Policy Board, who ultimately approved the project list. AAMPO drafted a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to be used by the MPO and each jurisdiction that lays out expectations and responsibilities related to fund expenditure etc.

      • Jon Stratton says:

        At least a portion of the COVID funding made available to local governments was done with the ability to use that funding to improve local infrastructure. This allows localities to be better prepared and more capable of dealing with the multitude of issues associated with pandemic-level (in terms of criticality and impact) incidents. Improving water delivery and accessibility both fall well within that very broad definition, I would guess. But I don’t know, I’m not a lawyer or city employee or expert in any way.

  3. Barbara Dugger says:

    I squelched my apprehension, dread, fear and crossed this crossing on Queen TODAY!!! I know I took a HUGE chance; I’ve done it before. This time, I did pay CLOSE attention to exactly WHERE THE WORST dips are. I didn’t care if rigs coming towards me were inconvenienced; I did the slowest cross I’ve ever done. I get tired of going out of MY way to accommodate the city, ODOT, US government, whoever. Time will tell if I ruined tires, it always does. I do NOT care where the funds come from, this has been an abomination for what seems like centuries for long term residents. THANK GOD something will happen sooner rather than after I am “gone to Heaven”. Thanks to HH also for blasting this info all over :)

  4. centrist says:

    So, it’s no news to me that a rail crossing can hold up traffic. SP was infamous for strangling traffic and blocking multiple crossings in a prior town. Arrogant beasts claimed right of way.
    The Queen crossing is easily avoided. In Nike-speak, just do it.
    I see that the rails are parallel and flat. The vehicle path collapsed.
    What allowed that? Just packing paving into the crossing might not fix an underlying issue

  5. Bill Kapaun says:

    ……”has been allocated $350,000 in Covid funds by the Albany Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.”
    Albany Area Metropolitan Planning Organization? Lord spare me! Where did they come from? Can we sue them?

  6. Richard Vannice says:

    A “permanent” solution??
    If you watch a train as it passes by you can see the ties flex up and down every time a set of wheels cross. I’m no engineer but to me that flexing of the ties at crossings is what eventually causes the vehicular traffic surface to go gunny bag.
    A “permanent” repair will undoubtedly deteriorate over time and we will be right back in the same rattle, bang, bump, slam tire breaking front end alignment problem.

  7. James Engel says:

    How come the rails never get bumpy?

    • Bob Woods says:

      Because power in the American universe is:

      The Railroads, and
      The Constitution … in that order :-)

  8. Mike quinn says:

    And let the games begin in finance dept when the $350,000 comes in staff will be working toward figuring out how they can get staff time out of it. Let’s spend all the money on the problem. Not how much you’ll spend on staff time. We have a lot of projects going on in Albany but you always see all the staff time put into project , let’s make the gifted tax payer monies work for the betterment of Albany. Especially the crossing at Pacifc and queen


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