A year or so ago, a small event in Dixon drew a substantial crowd when the Methodist Church’s new steeple was hoisted up and installed. On Thursday, just across the street, another small event drew a crowd of city folk and dignitaries from around the county. Only this time, the project will cost just a little more: $6.7 million.
The event was the groundbreaking for what is officially titled The West ‘B’ Street Bicycle/Pedestrian Undercrossing. When finished a year from now, the tunnel will allow students at local elementary and middle schools to avoid having to cross the double Union Pacific railroad tracks which daily carry 32 commuter trains and additional freight trains.
Of the money involved, $5.6 million came from federal and state coffers, and $1.2 million from our city.
A number of speakers addressed the crowd, many of which sought tree shade rather than sitting in the midday sun just outside the train station (where no trains stop).
Dixon Mayor Jack Batchelor, Jr. emceed the event, mentioning that an undercrossing idea was first brought up about a decade ago and had the early support of the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Dixon Business Association. He also mentioned the two railroad track fatalities in Dixon over its history.
Next was David Kutrosky of the Capitol Corridor J.P. Authority (the commuter train service). He noted the cooperation between the Union Pacific Railroad, the Solano Transportation Authority (STA) and the city of Dixon. He was pleased that the upcoming construction wouldn’t impact train schedules. At times, there will only be one usable track through the project area.
County Supervisor Jon Vasquez brought up the connection between the Safe Routes to School program (administered by the STA) and the undercrossing, saying that students attending the Montessori School, Anderson Elementary and Jacobs Middle School would benefit from increased safety.
Vacaville Mayor and STA board chairman Steve Hardy said he loved Dixon but kidded Mayor Batchelor about Dixon’s on-off movie studio project. “In this county, all the cities look after each other,” he said.
Dixon Unified School District’s Brian Dolan said he was glad he was sitting in the shade, “because if I were sitting out there in the seats, I’d be getting pink.” He said the undercrossing was all about “getting kids to their jobs safely.”
The last speaker, Dixon City Engineer Joe Leach joked that “I get to talk about the geeky things.” Leach said the undercrossing tunnel would stretch 150 feet and would be enhanced with decorative tiles.
Following the talks, an official sign was unveiled and VIPs performed the obligatory shoveling of soil. Someone must’ve loosened the earth first, because Dixon’s hardpan clay soil would’ve been difficult to dig into on the first try.
What wasn’t mentioned at the gathering was the building of the train station some years ago, which didn’t result in a train stop for Dixon, and the fact that the undercrossing is part of a continuing plan (especially on the part of the mayor) to meet the specifications for a train stop in Dixon. However, if a train stop were to be offered to the city, the undercrossing would have to be modified to provide train passenger access between the Union Pacific tracks – an expensive proposition.
Also, to meet Union Pacific’s requirements for a train stop next to the train station, a vehicle and pedestrian underpass would need to be built where ‘A’ Street currently crosses the tracks. That is currently priced out at approximately $26 million.
One or more of the speakers mentioned that the bicycle/pedestrian undercrossing to be built won’t solve the safety problem entirely since cyclists and pedestrians will continue to cross the tracks at 1st Street and at ‘A’ Street.
One additional speaker might’ve been added to the roster: A student who currently crosses the tracks to get to his or her school.
I should mention that I’m Dixon’s representative on the STA’s Pedestrian Advisory Committee, and I’ve been watching the undercrossing project gradually move toward reality. It’s expensive but will certainly improve safety. There will have to be consideration given toward fast-moving bicycles in the tunnel.