The federal government has awarded Missouri a $10.3 million grant for major improvements on a 22-mile stretch of Highway 60 in southwest Missouri, an area that’s seen numerous fatalities. This is in Webster County, east of Springfield.

This undated photo from the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) shows the proximity between Highway 60 in Webster County and the BNSF railroad in Diggins, which is east of Springfield (photo courtesy of MoDOT and the FRA)

Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) deputy administrator Quinton Kendall tells Missourinet that there have been more than 600 highway crashes in the past eight years in that area, resulting in 38 serious injuries and 17 deaths.

“And since 1975, there have been 44 incidents where cars and trains have collided, resulting in 15 injuries and 15 unnecessary fatalities,” Kendall says.

He says 20,000 vehicles travel that stretch of Highway 60 daily, and that there are also 30 BNSF trains daily along the right-of-way. The rail line is just 65 feet from the highway in some spots.

The 22-mile stretch of Highway 60 has 49 road intersections and 26 road and rail crossings.

“The ultimate plan here that the study revealed is to reduce the number of opportunities for collisions between cars, and cars and trains,” says Kendall.

He says the plan is to close or upgrade 23 highway-rail crossings and upgrade Highway 60 to a limited-access freeway, with six rail overpasses

Kendall describes it as a critical rail safety project.

“MoDOT plans on closing eight highway intersections and nine highway-rail crossings, as well as rebuilding an elevated highway A to cross the railroad tracks in the highway just west of Diggins,” Kendall says.

Diggins, a small town of about 300 residents, is south of Marshfield and is about 30 miles east of Springfield. Kendall also says Webster County officials held 12 listening sessions, and that 72 percent of residents support the plan.

He describes the project as a true public-private partnership, with funding coming from the FRA, the state Department of Transportation (MoDOT), Webster County and BNSF (Burlington Northern Sante Fe).

Mr. Kendall also emphasizes it’s a priority for the Trump Administration, and that it’s important that the project be done right. He says there are environmental studies that will need to be completed. He expects the project to start in 2023 or 2024.

Click here to listen to Brian Hauswirth’s full interview with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) deputy administrator Quinton Kendall, which was recorded on September 29, 2020:

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