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Delaying traffic; BNSF cause of State Avenue traffic jam in Dickinson

The BNSF crossing at State Avenue.

Tuesday morning's bumper-to-bumper traffic in west Dickinson was caused by a train and with reported delays of up to a half-hour, many people are saying things have to change.

While a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train loaded and unloaded materials, traffic came to a standstill at the railroad crossing on State Avenue. Residents contacted The Press with concerns that they were delayed as long as 30 minutes before the crossarms and traffic resumed.

A representative from Dickinson High School Student Affairs said Tuesday multiple students were late because they were stalled by the train. Dickinson Police Capt. Joe Cianni said he was stopped by the train around 8 a.m. and there was "quite a line of cars."

North Dakota Century Code states that a train cannot block an intersection more than 10 minutes, except for extraneous circumstances.

Cianni said this is not the first time trains have clogged the intersection. The DPD has issued two documented violations and is drafting a letter to BNSF to address related issues, he said.

The law is difficult to enforce because an officer would have to be on site throughout the stop.

"It is not something we have the manpower or time to keep an eye on," Cianni said.

Drivers become frustrated and maneuver around traffic or drive to the underpass because it is the only way to cross the tracks, which causes more congestion of vehicles, Cianni said.

Resident Cheryl Kelly said she has lived on the south side of town about seven years and she has been stopped at the train multiple times, but things are getting worse.

"You are almost having to change your life to try and get to work on time these days because of the train," she said.

BNSF Director of Public Affairs Amy McBeth said the train was loading and unloading for local customers and the crossing can be blocked for that purpose. She said the timing was inconvenient, but can't be controlled.

"Freight trains do not operate on a set schedule, while it happened to occur this morning (Tuesday) at that time, it is not a regularly scheduled time that that happens," McBeth said. "Certainly we are aware of the impact it has on the community, so we do try to minimize that as much as possible."

City Planner Ed Courton said the city will look to remedy the problem as part of the "Dickinson 2035: Roadmap to the Future" plan.

"The city is aware of the problem and we will be looking at it in depth as part of the transportation element of the forthcoming comprehensive plan," he said. "We are hoping to find some alternatives, or propose some alternatives, for the future to address the situation."

Traffic in town has increased because of an influx of people working in the energy sector, and that has exacerbated all driving concerns, including traffic at the railroad crossing, City Administrator Shawn Kessel said.

Officials are talking about possibly constructing an overpass or underpass, Kessel said, but it will depend on the input from the public.

An alternate crossing would be a benefit for traffic flow and emergency response, Kessel said. An overpass or underpass is estimated to cost $25 million.

The city will host its next public input meeting on Nov. 17 at the West River Community Center.