by Mike Landis, KY3 News
11:35 PM CST, December 19, 2012
SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- If you drive around Springfield long enough, you'll likely encounter a train crossing your path. And, your chances are becoming greater with train traffic on the rise. It also means more of a risk at places where roads and rails meet.
"You never, ever want to drive around lowered gates. It's not only illegal, but it's dangerous," said Sgt. Jason Pace, a spokesman for the Missouri State Highway Patrol.
The Highway Patrol reports seven fatality car-train collisions in Missouri this year. Most of those crashes have taken place at crossings that had flashing warning lights and bells.
The City of Springfield, Missouri Department of Transportation, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway have been partnering on several projects to reduce the chances of collisions. Those include new bridges carrying James River Freeway over tracks near U.S. 65. Another project set to begin in two years will include an overpass for East Chestnut Expressway to span tracks near U.S. 65.
In places where putting in bridges isn’t practical, other solutions have to be found. One example is a new signal setup on National Avenue between East Trafficway and Chestnut Expressway. With flashing signals in the median, and gates blocking all four lanes of traffic, impatient drivers will find it next to impossible to drive around the barriers to beat the train.
"That is a good thing. We didn’t have gates there before. It was just lights. So this is a great safety improvement,' said Kirk Juranas, assistant director of Springfield's Public Works Department.
The city plans improvements to other downtown crossings, like those on North Campbell Avenue. Upgrades are also slated for crossings on Webster Avenue and Sherman Avenue near the campus of Ozarks Technical Community College.
Law enforcement officers are quick to point out that, even with new technology and features, our safety is ultimately up to us.
"Anytime you are going to cross those tracks, you need to look, listen, and recognize your surroundings and recognize if there is a train coming," Pace said.
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