Elm Street Railroad Grade Separation
The City of Lima, in cooperation with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), partnered two decades with American Structurepoint to address slow-moving and stopped trains blocking an existing at-grade railroad crossing at the Indiana and Ohio Railway’s (IORY’s)tracks. The project goals were to increase vehicular and pedestrian safety, alleviate traffic congestion and delays, and improve emergency response time. The city and American Structurepoint navigated this journey, seeing the project through from its first studies, through detailed design and construction, and finally opening the new roadway and underpass in June 2020.
When the journey began in 1998, the IORY track bisected the city and essentially eliminated the city’s major east-west movements into the downtown area and between two hospitals. At the time of our first studies, approximately 14,500 vehicles per day traveled east to west across the tracks with no existing grade separations available at the project location. Four trains per day traveled these tracks, resulting in an average delay of six minutes for each occurrence. In some instances, delays lasted as long as 20 to 30 minutes when trains came to a complete stop. Delayed emergency response time loomed as a significant concern. Lima Memorial Hospital, a Level II trauma center, is located within a block of the railroad crossing. When trains were stopped on the tracks, emergency responders were forced to take longer routes to reach the hospital. Critical minutes were being lost, particularly when dealing with a trauma patient needing immediate care.
American Structurepoint was there from the beginning developing the following:
* Purpose and Need Statement
* Preliminary evaluation of environmental elements (including establishing the groundwater elevation for roadway underpass consideration)
* Traffic counts and analysis
* A Conceptual Alternatives Study of 11 alternatives
* An Assessment of Feasible Alternatives for 6 alternatives
* An Alternative Evaluation Report for a roadway underpass and overpass at Elm Street.
American Structurepoint also prepared an abbreviated safety study and safety program application at the intersection of Bellefontaine Avenue and Elm Street, with a roundabout selected as the preferred intersection improvement.
Along with the grade separation, this project includes the reconstruction, widening and realignment of Elm Street between Bellefontaine Avenue and Shawnee Street. The profile of Elm Street was lowered 20 feet to accommodate the grade separation.
American Structurepoint provided structural engineering services for the single-span deck girder bridge carrying rail traffic over East Elm Street, a permanent soldier pile and lagging retaining wall along the south side of Elm Street, and a temporary soldier pile and lagging wall with soil anchors that supported the railroad shoofly.
Additional design elements consisted of a gravity storm sewer system constructed along Elm Street and Bellefontaine Avenue, 30-feet-deep in some instances, to convey stormwater to the Ottawa River. A detailed landscaping plan, post-top street lighting, and decorative panels on the railroad structure were added for aesthetics within the project area.
Uniqueness and/or Innovative Applications of New and/or Existing Techniques
The project blends two engineering applications in an innovative way - a roundabout and a grade-separated rail crossing - to meet both the needs of the city and the railroad by providing a safe environment for vehicular, rail, and pedestrian travel. Incorporating a roundabout improves the flow of traffic along the corridor as well as the safety of the traveling public. Additionally, the incorporation of the grade-separated railway allows for uninterrupted traffic flow for vehicles and pedestrians while eliminating the potential for collisions with rail traffic.
The engineering team took steps to minimize construction impacts to the community. One example was to use stacked trench boxes for the installation of the deep storm sewer along Bellefontaine Avenue. This minimized impacts to several adjacent properties (i.e., church, Lima Memorial Stadium) while still maintaining two-way traffic on Bellefontaine Avenue. Another example of minimizing construction impacts was to install retaining walls in the project area. These retaining walls allowed for the roadway to be lowered while not impacting the number of available parking spots or the alley access for residents in the area.
Future Value to the Engineering Profession and Perception by the Public
The project advances a positive public image of engineering on many fronts. Increasing public safety due to the new underpass, roadway, and roundabout stands as the primary benefit. Prior to the underpass’ opening, ODOT had received reports of high school students sliding under stopped trains to get to school because they didn’t want to be late to class. Public safety is also increased for all residents traveling to and from two parks – Lincoln Park and Shawnee Park – on either side of the railroad as well as traveling to a nearby splash pad in front of Lima Stadium. Hazards are now eliminated because vehicular and pedestrian traffic pass underneath the railroad rather than crossing the tracks.
The new roundabout at Elm Street and Bellefontaine Avenue eliminates a previously substandard skewed intersection, reducing the number of total conflict points for vehicles and pedestrians from 56 to 16. The corridor improvements advance the public perception of engineering by providing safe travel for traffic across the railway, and lessening the travel delays associated with the blocked crossings.
The aesthetic elements and detailed landscaping along Elm Street also advance the public perception of engineering. These elements combine the look of a new roadway and modern roundabout with the nostalgic look of a historical rail bridge. The result is a safer and aesthetically pleasing route through town without the inconveniences of stopping for a traffic signal or rail crossing.
Social, Economic and Sustainable Development Consideration
The Elm Street Railroad Grade Separation provides many secondary social and economic benefits to the Lima community. Today, emergency responders travel a much safer route to the Lima Memorial Hospital, as well as an expedited route when a train is crossing or stopped on the tracks. Traffic flow also is improved to the nearby Lima Senior High School and Lima Stadium. East-west access and connectivity within Lima are vastly improved as is travel between two city parks and to downtown because travelers now have an option to crossing a railroad line.
The design team collaborated with the city to identify several aesthetic elements for the project to beautify the area and create a sense of place, thus improving quality of life. The design team saw an opportunity to enrich the area’s appearance with a visually appealing corridor of which residents can be proud. It also creates a welcoming gateway when heading toward the downtown business district. The entire corridor also meets the complete streets requirements promoting multiple travel methods of walking and bicycling along pathways and sidewalks, thereby promoting health and wellness.
Several elements harken back to Lima’s rich railroad history. Three decorative porcelain enamel plates with screen printed images adorn the railroad bridge structure. One features the town’s name in gold lettering on a red background. The second depicts a circa-1944 locomotive traveling on the railroad, another symbol of the city’s railroading history. For three quarters of a century, the Lima Locomotive Works stood as one of the city’s leading employers. The third panel depicts insignias of three railroads that once traveled daily to the historic Lima train station, the B&O, Erie, and Detroit--Toledo & Ironton. Decorative concrete formliner panels are used on the walls underneath the underpass to give the appearance of sandstone blocks, adding to the nostalgic look and feel. All these aesthetic elements are a significant value-add to the community.
A major complexity with this project involved maintaining train traffic throughout construction while in an urban environment. American Structurepoint designed and oversaw the construction of a temporary shoofly. Train traffic was diverted onto the shoofly west of where the proposed new railroad bridge would be. This allowed contractors to remove the existing rail and construct the proposed structure for the underpass while excavating some 20 feet below the proposed structure. Daily monitoring occurred at the shoofly location to verify the tracks weren’t settling and to ensure that the temporary retaining wall was stable. Once the proposed structure was constructed and new tracks in place, rail traffic was shifted to the permanent rail alignment, allowing for the remaining excavation and construction of the underpass to be completed. Temporary reinforced earth-wire walls also were utilized to accommodate part-width construction of the bridge wingwalls near the shoofly. We also designed the temporary Bellefontaine Avenue railroad crossing to fit narrowly between an existing at-grade crossing and a newly construction car wash.
Another complexity involved installing an up to 30-feet-deep storm sewer trunk line extending from the underpass to the Ottawa River. This was designed to fit along Bellefontaine Avenue between the roadway and Shawnee Park and nearby church. Installing such a line while maintaining two lanes of traffic on Bellefontaine Avenue gave construction crews about 20 to 30 feet of work zone in which to excavate the trench and install the pipe.
Funding the project’s construction may have been the most significant complexity to overcome. In all, 12 different sources in federal, state, and local funding were used and included private donations of $50,000 each from Lima Memorial Health Systems and Mercy Health-St Rita’s Medical Center. Local officials said these private donations enabled project construction to begin.
*Successful Fulfillment of Client/Owner Needs *
The project met the City of Lima’s desire of eliminating the at-grade railroad crossing that hampered east-west connectivity. Eliminating the at-grade crossing improved the public safety as well as traffic flow of approximately 35,000 vehicles daily traveling in the project area. Emergency response times for police, fire, and ambulance are improved now that traffic can freely flow across the railroad track if blocked. Additionally, the completed project allows a safer path for walkers and bicyclists to cross under the train. Then Deputy Director of ODOT District 1 Kirk Slusher stated at the May 2018 groundbreaking that the Elm Street Grade Separation project perfectly embodies the ODOT mission of providing the easy movement of people and goods from place to place while improving safety and enhancing capacity. The new roadway, roundabout, and other design elements are providing improved public safety and better quality of life for the 80,000 residents of the Lima urban area.
Construction ran smoothly for the extent of the project with the exception of a utility relocation. One utility provider did not relocate their facilities within the designated time frame, which added seven months to the overall construction time. Outside of this relocation issue, the project was within $2,00 of the original estimated budget.
A significant cost savings for the city was to construct a gravity storm sewer system to drain the underpass. This gravity system replaced the need to mechanically pump water out of the project area and saved the city approximately $1 million in construction costs. Mechanically pumping storm sewer runoff can be a costly addition to a roadway project. If the mechanical solution fails, this also adds additional cost to address a flooded roadway.
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