Nolan Stout

WASHINGTON (CN) — State and local governments in 32 states secured more than $570 million in grants Monday as the Federal Railroad Administration kicked off the first round of its Railroad Crossing Elimination program.

The funding has been earmarked for 400 at-grade crossings, meaning the roads and railroad tracks intersect at the same height. In some cases the money will work to close crossings, but others will involve improving or creating grade separations.

Whitefish will receive $400,000 from the program. It was the only location in Montana to be awarded funding, according to a press release from the FRA.

Transportation Department figures show that more than 2,000 collisions occurred at railroad crossings across the country in 2022, and there were more than 30,000 reports of blocked crossings in the same year, forcing residents and first responders to find lengthy detours.

“Every year, commuters, residents, and first responders lose valuable time waiting at blocked railroad crossings — and worse, those crossings are too often the site of collisions that could be prevented,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Monday.

The grant program will continue to award funding annually through 2026.

“The Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program is another critical tool that FRA is using to make a lasting impact on the safety and transportation needs of communities nationwide,” Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said in a press release. “With these project selections and the many more that are to come, we will save lives and reshape infrastructure in ways that allow individuals to move through their neighborhoods seamlessly and safely.”

One of the biggest-ticket projects is in Pelham, Alabama, a suburb of Birmingham. The city is receiving more than $41.7 million to construct a bridge that will increase road capacity and eliminate two at-grade crossings on Shelby County Road 52, used by 24,000 drivers daily.

Another high-price project is about $40.5 million to Washougal, Washington, for the development, design and construction of a rail bridge and underpass affecting five intersections along 32nd Street.

“This funding for Washougal is a really big deal and it will be put to good use, helping reconnect neighborhoods and delivering all kinds of major infrastructure improvements,” Washington Senator Patty Murray said in a press release. “This investment will help ensure that goods get to where they need to be on time and make sure this crossing is safer and more effective for everyone.”

Houston’s West Belt Improvement Project is another. The project, which received more than $36.9 million, would create a 9,000-foot sealed rail corridor and eliminate seven at-grade crossings where more than 850 train blockages have been reported so far this year.

Many of the grants announced Monday are for less than $1 million. Studies to plan future improvements account for some of the smallest awards, including $60,000 for Florence, South Carolina, to examine 33 railroad crossings within the city limits; $76,000 to Peru, Indiana, to assess six at-grade and one grade-separated crossing; and $96,000 to Parkersburg, West Virginia, for a crossing on the CSX Ohio River subdivision.

“To keep West Virginia moving, we need to ensure we have a safe and strong railway system,” West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin said in a press release. “This funding will enhance rail crossings in the Mountain State to reduce congestion, strengthen our supply chains, and save lives.”