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$1.7B ACE Projects Will Improve Rail Traffic

Wed August 14, 2019 - West Edition #17
Lori Tobias – CEG CorrespondEnt


Crews working on the Fairway Drive grade separation project, one of 19 separation projects in the San Gabriel Valley, will not only depress the roadway, but raise the railroad tracks, as well.
Crews working on the Fairway Drive grade separation project, one of 19 separation projects in the San Gabriel Valley, will not only depress the roadway, but raise the railroad tracks, as well.
Crews working on the Fairway Drive grade separation project, one of 19 separation projects in the San Gabriel Valley, will not only depress the roadway, but raise the railroad tracks, as well.
A grade separation project north of Los Angeles is calling for a different approach than many of the other Alameda Corridor-East Projects (ACE). The $186.9 million Fairway project is expected to reduce traffic congestion by an estimated 27.6 vehicle-hours delay each day at the crossing, which sees 24,800 vehicles per day.
The $1.697 billion ACE Project is intended to mitigate vehicle delays and collisions at rail-roadway crossings resulting from growing freight rail traffic in the San Gabriel Valley. The ACE Trade Corridor rail mainlines through Southern California carry 16 percent of all oceangoing containers in the United States, according to the project website.
There are currently three grade separation projects under construction with another two grade separations in the design phase. When the Fairway project is completed, the tracks will run about 12 ft. above the roadway for about 1.4 mi. The road will be depressed about 15 ft. or so.

A grade separation project north of Los Angeles is calling for a different approach than many of the other Alameda Corridor-East Projects (ACE). Crews working on the Fairway Drive grade separation project, one of 19 separation projects in the San Gabriel Valley, will not only depress the roadway, but raise the railroad tracks, as well.

"In the past, we mostly separated the roadway and tracks by depressing the roadway, said Charles Tsang, senior project manager of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. For Fairway Drive and the Fullerton Road project, we're doing a combination because of constraints on the roadway. In the past, you leave one alone and focus on the other part. Doing the combination drives construction costs up."

The $1.697 billion ACE Project is intended to mitigate vehicle delays and collisions at rail-roadway crossings resulting from growing freight rail traffic in the San Gabriel Valley. The ACE Trade Corridor rail mainlines through Southern California carry 16 percent of all oceangoing containers in the United States, according to the project website (www.theaceproject.org). Along with grade separation on 19 crossings — resulting in the elimination of 23 at-grade crossings — the project also includes safety and mobility upgrades at 53 crossings.

There are currently three grade separation projects under construction with another two grade separations in the design phase. Fourteen of the 19 projects are completed. The SGVCOG plans to roll out another three next year with the entire program scheduled to be completed in three to four years.

That's if, Tsang said, "we don't identify new grade separation candidates."

The $186.9 million Fairway project is expected to reduce traffic congestion by an estimated 27.6 vehicle-hours delay each day at the crossing, which sees 24,800 vehicles per day. It is traveled by 49 trains per day, a number expected to increase to 91 per day by 2025.

The projects generally begin with the relocation of the underground utilities, a massive operation in itself, Tsang said.

"A lot of times we do an open cut," he said. "It's pretty simple, they come in and use an excavator and backhoe, dig up the trench and expose the utility line to remove it. That's a lot of interruption of traffic, especially if the utility is running across the street. To prevent that, we use an alternative method we call less disturbance. Basically, on both sides, you dig up a pit about 20 to 30 feet deep. Then you drop in a boring machine and fish the casing in. On the other end at the receiving pit, you also dig a deep hole and workers are working from both ends while traffic is still on top. You do everything behind the scenes."

In an effort to minimize impacts to the community, the work is often done at night. Once the utilities are moved, they build the retaining walls, Meanwhile, work is taking place to build the railroad bridge.

When the Fairway project is completed, the tracks will run about 12 ft. above the roadway for about 1.4 mi. The road will be depressed about 15 ft. or so.

The cost of the project is about $20 million more than originally estimated. Part of the increase was related to what Tsang described as a "hiccup."

"Right after we started some stakeholders and property owners changed their minds and said I want something different. That means the project we originally bid out we had to make some changes to the plan."

But cost increases also can be attributed to labor and minimum wage laws, as well as increased gas taxes.

"A lot of heavy equipment sucks up gasoline like crazy," Tsang said. "Operating various equipment such as excavators, road scrapers, trucks and backhoes, the gas costs rack up pretty high. The gas trucks come in twice a day just to refuel all the equipment. It's like a military operation." CEG