Taking aim at a longstanding hazard and hastening the flow of car and truck traffic, the U.S.  Dept. of Transportation has awarded more than $570 million in grants to states and localities for projects that aim to improve safety at railroad crossings nationwide. The projects will include adding grade separations and shutting or upgrading existing at-grade crossings.

Congress created the grade-crossing grant program in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and authorized $500 million each year for five years. The grants, which U.S. DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced June 5, will help finance 63 projects in 32 states. They represent the first round of rail-crossing grants from the 2021 IIJA.

Tough Competition

U.S. DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg, said, "I want to emphasize this is a very competitive process."

Buttigieg—speaking at a June 5 appearance in Grand Forks, N.D., to announce a $30-million grant for a grade-separation project there—said DOT received applications for more than $2 billion worth of projects for the $570 million available.

He added, "I'm sure we'll get a lot of healthy applications next year, including some of the ones that came close but didn't quite make the cut this time around."

Safety at grade crossings has long been a concern. Last year, there were more than 2,000 highway-rail crossing collisions in the U.S. and more than 30,000 reports of blocked crossings filed to FRA's public complaint  panel, according to the agency.

Besides preventing accidents, project advocates say the improvement work can help ease or avoid long traffic delays caused by slow-moving or stopped trains at those highway crossings.

The largest individual grant on the FRA list is an award of up to $41.8 million to build a bridge and eliminate two at-grade crossings in the city of Pelham in Shelby County, Ala.

Top Five States

Texas receives the largest dollar amount of grants, with $87 million for five projects. California ranks second, receiving $64.5 million for seven projects, followed by Alabama, with $53.5 million for two projects.

Washington is fourth, with $44.5 million for three projects; New Mexico is fifth, receiving $31.2 million for one project.

Also included in the total is $15.7 million for planning grade- crossing projects and $33.1 million for project development and design.

Those early-phase funds "will build a pipeline of projects for future funding," says FRA.