The District of Houston is renewing its search for the money needed for safety improvements at the Benson Ave. level rail crossing. (Houston Today photo)

District renews efforts for Benson Ave. crossing improvements

Making an application for a federal grant

  • Jul. 22, 2020 12:00 a.m.

The District of Houston council is renewing efforts to improve safety at the Benson Ave. CN rail crossing.

A long-standing issue within the District and the community, past efforts have been unsuccesful but now the District is applying for financial assistance through the federal government’s Transport Canada Rail Safety Improvement Program (RSIP) which can provide half of a project’s cost to a maximum $500,000.

Installing crossing arms and warning lights at the Benson crossing could cost an estimated $510,460 once a contingency allowance is factored in, District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck noted in a memo to council.

The District would tap its unallocated surplus for half of the cost, or $255,230, with the RSIP application being for the other half.

Because the crossing improvements would not be owned by the District, it can’t use any of the annual federal gas tax rebate monies it receives nor recent major grants provided by the province.

Pinchbeck indicated that the District’s 2020-2024 financial plan has already earmarked sufficient District surplus monies in 2021 for the project.

“If the grant application is successful, the work will be performed by CN Rail in 2021,” he wrote. The application deadline is Aug. 1.

Council members in the past have pointed to increased rail traffic spurred by an increase in industrial projects as one of the key reasons for needing safety improvements at level crossings.

“When trains block these rail crossings, emergency services are unable to reach the north side of Houston, meaning residents are unable to receive assistance from police, fire and ambulance services,” a 2019 briefing note to council in advance of meeting with CN and provincial officials.

“This is especially dangerous because of the amount of heavy industry located in the north side industrial zone,” the briefing note added.

And last year resident Ron Harris presented a petition of approximately 430 names to council, highlighting the need for gates where the CN line crosses Benson.

“If there was an accident there, it blocks about 60 homes and a water treatment plant, and there’s no way to get medical or fire [personnel] to protect people,” Harris told The Houston Today.

Harris said residents have been pressing for safety improvements for at least 20 years.

“It’s been brought up again and again, but it’s always passed over,” Harris said. “Safety should be the number one priority in any community.”

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