A 3,800-foot long fence is planned for construction along the south side of the railroad, inciting protest from the community. Construction is set for early this year.
The eight-foot high steel fence will run from Richards Boulevard to the east end of Olive Drive. Construction will cost approximately $250,000 and will be funded by the state Proposition 1B, which finances transportation improvements.
Union Pacific Railroad (UP), which owns the tracks that run through Davis, claims that the fence will increase safety by preventing illegal crossing on the tracks.
This half-mile has seen the highest rate of fatalities per year compared to the rest of the tracks in Davis. Four people have died in this section since 1998.
Fourteen years ago, Nanda Butler died while crossing the tracks illegally from Olive Drive on L Street. Patrick Allison committed suicide on the track in 2004. In 2005, Samuel Carrasco, who was drinking at the time, was killed while lying on the rails. The most recent death occurred in 2007, when Fred Nightbear Iyotte crossed the tracks near the east end of the proposed fenced area.
Despite the fatality rate, protesters argue that the fence is a dangerous solution to this problem. They claim that the fence will separate Olive Drive from the rest of the city and force bikers and pedestrians to more dangerous routes to get to downtown.
Suggested alternatives include a tunnel or bridge for pedestrians to cross this section of the railroad.
A protest gathering on Dec. 5 was attended by 40 residents at the Davis Railroad Depot to rally against UP and the proposed fence.
“I do think we have a problem here,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Joe Krovoza, who attended the protest. “The problem is that school kids on the south side of Olive Drive and residents on the south side of Olive Drive need a way to cross into downtown, keep our downtown viable. Putting up this fence will not solve that problem.”
There are 49 school district students who live on Olive Drive and attend 11 different schools around the city.
If an un-breached fence is put in place, these school children, along with the 500 to 1000 residents who reside in Olive Drive, will have to use more dangerous routes, Krovoza said.
On the west side, they will have to cross four intersections, including Olive Drive and Richards Boulevard, and First and E Street to get to downtown. On the east side, pedestrians will have to cross an off-ramp going into I-80.
“Union Pacific has put us in a very difficult position,” Krovoza said. “Union Pacific has not supported an at-grade crossing here at the station. That’s the obvious thing to be done and they haven’t done it.”
City council, community members and UP have been working on the issue. On Dec. 10, city staff met with UP, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), which would allocate funding for the fence, and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
FRA and the railroad expressed the necessity for a safety fence and opposed an at-grade crossing over the tracks. Both the FRA and the railroad are aware of the concerns voiced by the community members and claim their intent to work with the city on this project.
“I appreciate the concern about downtown,” said Rochelle Swanson, city councilmember, during the Dec. 5 protest. “But I also am concerned about the residents of Olive Drive and the rest of the community, and what we are saying as a community that we’re OK with.”
Meanwhile, community members are continuing to rally against the construction of the fence, garnering support on Facebook and through the media. A public workshop is planned for Jan. 11 during the city council meeting to discuss the issue further.
“Maybe a fence is part of the solution, but there’s going to have to be other ways for Olive Drive to remain a part of the community,” Swanson said.
SARAHNI PECSON can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.XXX