LAKE CRYSTAL — A railroad crossing near Lake Crystal that was the site of a fatal accident in 2009 and another crash last month will get signals and gates ahead of schedule.
Blue Earth County has agreed to fund in advance the $250,000 cost of the safety upgrade for the rail crossing at County Road 112. It had been scheduled for federal funding in 2016, but the county will pay now and be reimbursed in four years.
County Engineer Al Forsberg said the rationale is simple.
“What if someone gets killed out there waiting for 2016 to come?” he said.
Forsberg added: “That’s about as passionate as you will see me on any one issue.”
On July 13, 2009, two county employees, Todd Ziegler and Jack Baker, were killed when the dump truck they were in collided with a train.
The deaths prompted Forsberg to lobby the state to spend $36 million over eight years, enough to put crossing gates and lights at every rail crossing in the state at a paved county highway.
A Nicollet man, William Henry Epper, was injured during a June crash at this intersection.
The advance-funding method has become more common at the county recently, though Commissioner Kip Bruender said it’s worthwhile in this case.
“How can you say no to that railroad project?” he said.
There is some cost associated with advance funding projects because it involves county money that won’t collect investment income. But interest rates are at historic lows, making that income less important.
Forsberg brought to the board a list of projects the county has advance funded in recent years. The county is owed about $2.7 million on various projects for which it expects to be paid back this year.