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Mayor nudges state on crossing

January 14, 2006|By By Mark R. Madler

Mayor Jef Vander Borght wants state to quicken pace of underpass project at San Fernando Boulevard and Buena Vista Street crossing.MEDIA DISTRICT NORTH -- City officials and an area lawmaker are urging Caltrans to speed up construction of an underpass at the San Fernando Boulevard and Buena Vista Street railroad crossing following a fatal Jan. 6 Metrolink collision at the intersection.

Mayor Jef Vander Borght called Assemblyman Dario Frommer following the collision at the crossing, which killed 76-year-old Glendale resident Maureen Osborn after a Metrolink train slammed into her car.

"It can be done ahead of schedule," Vander Borght said. "With the sad situation like the accident last week we know the benefits of moving that forward will bring to the community.

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The underpass is part of the larger Empire Avenue interchange project with the Golden State (5) Freeway. Work on the $155 million Empire Avenue interchange project is scheduled to begin in mid to late 2008 and includes new on- and off-ramps with the Golden State (5) Freeway, additional carpool lanes on the freeway and underpasses beneath the railroad tracks at Buena Vista Street and at Empire Avenue.

Planned safety measures include signs that light up when a train is approaching to warn drivers from making turns toward the tracks from San Fernando Boulevard; and signals to keep southbound traffic on Buena Vista from stopping on the tracks, the city's traffic engineer Ken Johnson said.

Frommer has taken some action. In a letter dated Jan. 6 to Caltrans Director Will Kempton, Frommer urged that the underpass be the first phase of the project.

"These at-grade crossings pose a serious public safety risk, as well as a risk to commuter and goods traffic that need to be resolved," Frommer wrote. "The project you are commencing with the city of Burbank is very important to local commuters and my constituents."

The crash between Osborn's vehicle and a southbound Metrolink train came three years to the date of another fatal accident in which a truck driver was killed at the same crossing.

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The project has been funded and is still in the design phase but has already cleared environmental impact reviews, CalTrans spokesman Dave White said.

Although the project is proceeding, it takes time because the state needs to work with both the city and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on right-of-way and legal issues, White said.

"It has to be done right so as not to result in a bigger problem on the freeway, which would then spill over onto the local streets," White said.

"You don't want to rush with a design and end up with a problematic situation."

In the meantime, the city is looking at other methods to increase safety and alert drivers who may not be paying attention to the crossing, Johnson said.

"We'll get those in place within the next year and that will make it as safe as we can until we get the grade separation," Johnson said.

QUESTION

Do you think Caltrans should speed up work to construct an underpass at the San Fernando Boulevard and Buena Vista Street rail crossing? E-mail your responses to burbankleader @latimes.com; mail them to the Burbank Leader, 111 W. Wilson Ave., Glendale, CA 91203. Please spell your name and include your address and phone number for verification purposes only.

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