KDOT shuts down safe route to school with closing of Midland Railway crossing
photo by: Elvyn Jones
A pedestrian crossing at Midland Railway that provides a route to the Baldwin City school district’s west campus has been closed down because of possible safety concerns, and an inspection by the Kansas Department of Transportation will determine whether and when it can be reopened, Baldwin City Administrator Glenn Rodden said.
The crossing was installed late last year as part of a new trail that runs along Elm Street from the west side of Baker University at Eighth Street about six blocks west to the school district’s elementary campus. The 6-foot-wide concrete trail was built with the aid of a $580,000 KDOT transportation enhancement grant that provided 80% of its construction cost. It crosses Midland Railway immediately before connecting with an existing trail on the campus. The crossing was closed off last month.
AJ Stevens, CEO of Baldwin City & Southern Railroad, a wholly owned for-profit subsidiary of Midland, emphasized in a text message to the Journal-World that KDOT ordered the crossing’s closure because of safety concerns. KDOT’s action came after Midland officials conducted a post-construction inspection of the crossing on Feb. 2, which Stevens wrote was mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration. That inspection found that the concrete crossing slab that rests on top of railroad ties between the track’s rails rocked when under weight because it was not securely anchored, a condition that was documented on video and reported to KDOT. The crossing was installed with no consultation or discussion with Midland, he wrote.
Rodden said KDOT sent the city and Midland a 10-day notification announcement of its intention to conduct an on-site inspection of the crossing. The 10-day notification period will expire early this week, he said. The inspection will determine if there is an existing safety concern at the crossing and how to correct any problems, Rodden said.
Rodden said he expected that the inspection would be conducted soon on the crossing, which was installed under KDOT’s supervision, and that the crossing would reopen soon after.
“I’m no engineer, but I’d be surprised if there is anything substantially wrong with that crossing,” he said. “KDOT knows how to install crossings.”
The concrete crossing replaced an asphalt walkway that had provided access across the tracks for more than two decades. The crossing provides the most direct pedestrian or bike route to the campus for central or southern Baldwin City neighborhoods. Without it, many school children walking or biking to the elementary school campus or its baseball and softball complex would have to use 11th Street to access sidewalks at Ames Street four blocks to the north, Rodden said.
There are no sidewalks on 11th Street,” Rodden said. “That’s why we pushed so hard for this project as a safe route to school.”
The Elm Street multi-use trail project was started last summer. Ed Courton, Baldwin City community development director, said all of the project’s concrete walkway has been installed. Courton also emphasized that the trail’s safe-route-to-school status played an important role in helping the city secure the KDOT grant that supported the trail’s construction.
KDOT has awarded Baldwin City a $1 million grant that will pay 80% of the construction cost needed to install a multi-use trail along the Midland tracks from U.S. Highway 56 to the west city limits at Lincoln Street. Courton said KDOT has indicated that the project will be done in two phases, with the first phase of trail from U.S. 56 to High Street to be completed this year.
The city purchased a trail easement along the Midland tracks from U.S. 56 to near Ottawa for $345,000 in 2018 at the request of Midland officials after tracks washed out in a flash flood in northern Franklin County. Douglas County later agreed to pay Baldwin City $97,000 to help with the easement acquisition, and various city and county economic development groups provided the city another $62,000.
Relations between the city and Midland began to unravel last year over a dispute involving the city’s lease of the old Santa Fe depot to the Santa Fe Trail Historical Society. Relations further soured when the city found Baldwin City & Southern to be out of compliance with the terms of a Kansas Commerce Department community development block grant loan the city secured for the railway. In November, the city filed a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court, seeking to recover the $321,000 loaned to Baldwin City & Southern through the grant program.