UPDATE: The city said Tuesday that the closure plans have changed. Read more here.
ARLINGTON - Five at-grade railroad crossings along a 2.5-mile stretch of Division Street running through downtown Arlington will close for at least four days Wednesday, creating a travel headache for drivers and a logistical nightmare for schools and emergency responders.
The closures of Arlington's at-grade rail crossings, which will move to Collins Street and Stadium Drive next week, is part of Union Pacific's $30 million project to renew 35 miles of railroad track between Fort Worth and Dallas. This week's closures are from Bowen Road on the west to Mesquite Street on the east.
"It's going to disrupt commute times, but we all have to live with it," said Arlington Mayor Robert Cluck, who encouraged motorists to carefully plan their routes before leaving home.
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Only five roads across Arlington cross either over or under the tracks: West Green Oaks Boulevard, Forest Edge Drive, Fielder Road, West Street and Texas 360. Central Arlington residents trying to go north or south this week will likely use the Fielder Road overpass on the west or the West Street underpass on the east.
The eight-day project is designed to strengthen the rail for heavy commercial traffic and reduce the need for maintenance work, which could cause train traffic delays, Union Pacific spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said.
Besides laying new rail on the northern track, crews will replace 90,000 wooden ties with more durable concrete ties, change 24 track switches and renew roadway surfaces at 45 crossings in Fort Worth, Arlington, Grand Prairie and Dallas.
"While this is a project that does present some logistical challenges, it will improve the transportation infrastructure in the Dallas-Fort Worth area," Espinoza said. "We are doing our best to conduct the project in the most efficient manner. We do realize it's an inconvenience."
Crews began work Jan. 3 in Fort Worth and are expected to complete the project in Dallas by March 7. Union Pacific is expected to finish the 13-mile stretch of track through Arlington by Jan. 24.
The southern track between Fort Worth and Dallas will be replaced at a later date.
A public meeting on the Arlington portion of the project is set for 6 p.m. Monday at City Hall, 101 W. Abram St.
Union Pacific's track renewal train, with a 250-man crew, will simultaneously remove and replace the rail and ties. Using cranes, the track renewal train can install up to 5,000 ties in 12 hours, Espinoza said.
"This is an impressive machine. Before this, when we would take on these types of projects, everything had to be done by hand," she said.
The track and wooden ties will be recycled, she said.
Motorists needing to cross the tracks, which run parallel to Division Street through the center of Arlington, should expect delays and detours during the eight-day project.
The at-grade crossings at Bowen Road, Davis Drive and Cooper, Center and Mesquite streets will close first.
They will reopen as the track renewal train moves east, forcing the closings of the Collins Street and Stadium Drive crossings for about four days.
The city will deploy police officers to help manage traffic flow and keep routes open for emergency personnel.
First responders typically stationed south of the rail line will be temporarily relocated so they can more easily respond to emergencies in the northern section of the city, officials said.
"We have planned for this and have done our best to prepare for all scenarios from a public safety perspective as well as traffic management," Councilman Robert Rivera said. "Ultimately, people will get to where they need to be, but patience will definitely be required."
With the unprecedented number of crossing closures, the city of Arlington will share footage from its traffic camera network with the public for the first time.
The city will post regularly updated still shots from 27 select traffic cameras on its website, MyArlingtonTx.com, during the eight-day project so motorists can see traffic conditions near particular crossings before they begin their trips, spokeswoman Rebecca Rodriguez said.
"We are in a position to offer drivers in Arlington news that is specific to Arlington. While we appreciate our local metro coverage, you can't expect those traffic helicopters to hover over Arlington for four days.
"We have our own traffics cameras; why not make them available to drivers?"
The footage on the website won't be live to the public will be refreshed every three to five minutes, she said. The website will also reflect which at-grade crossings are open or closed daily.
School bus headaches
Because the Arlington school district's bus barn is south of the tracks, bus drivers who transport students to the 13 campuses north of Division Street will begin their day about 30 minutes earlier, district Transportation Director Colleen Martin said.
"We're having daily meeting with our people to prepare them for this," Martin said.
Communicating about possible changes to pickup and dropoff times with parents of approximately 950 special-needs students who ride a bus is a concern of the district.
Depending on their needs, some of those students may attend a campus across town from their homes, which would mean the drivers would need to cross the tracks twice.
Bus drivers will contact those parents directly to let them know their expected pickup and dropoff times based on traffic, Martin said.
Union Pacific does regular maintenance on tracks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Espinoza said. Recent work includes replacing all the wooden ties in 2008 and replacing portions of the rail in 2009 and 2010, she said.
"We inspect these lines on a regular basis multiple times a week. Anytime we find any issues, we do address those right away," she said.
Espinoza said it would take 300 trucks to transport the same amount of freight as a double-stacked intermodal train.
"This is an important east-west route that businesses across the country use to ship their goods. These intermodal trains are carrying clothing, televisions, kitchen appliances, anything you find in a big-box store.
"Those are items we use every day," Espinoza said. "If those goods were traveling by truck, our freeways and streets would be really clogged. We want to make sure we have a strong infrastructure to support these businesses."
There is one bit of good news for city planners: The Cowboys will not be hosting the NFC Championship game on Sunday, which means one less traffic headache.
Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578