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Sidewalk at Pullman Ave. rail crossing to be extended

Pastor John Magee of Cottage Grove walks with seventh-grader Sara Calhoun as she is forced to walk in the street to cross the railroad tracks at Pullman Avenue in St. Paul Park. The newly installed sidewalk does not extend onto railroad property across the tracks (at right). Calhoun said she doesn't feel as safe in the mornings when "I'm half asleep." (Bulletin photo by Toni Lambert)

More than two months have passed since school opened and students who walk or bike along Pullman Avenue are still forced to move into the street as they cross the railroad tracks.

The city built a new sidewalk on the north side of Pullman Avenue as part of its 2009 Street Rehabilitation project so that students wouldn't be forced to walk in the street, but the sidewalk doesn't cover the Burlington Northern Santa Fe right-of-way.

"It's been a battle," said Lee Flandrich, St. Paul Park Public Works supervisor. "We've been discussing who would pay to upgrade the crossing since February."

Flandrich said since school began and one parent complained about the lack of sidewalk, Burlington Northern has agreed to fix the grade crossing in conjunction with the city.

"They've told us their portion of the upgrade will be completed before winter, depending on the weather," Flandrich said.

A second parent who complained wants to make sure Burlington Northern "makes up for lost time."

John Magee, a Cottage Grove pastor and father of five, is the crossing guard at the tracks. His daughter, Olivia, was riding her bike to Oltman Middle School for soccer practice this summer when she was hit by a vehicle at the top of the hill where Pullman and Summit avenues cross. She was trying to cross the street, Magee said.

"The point is Pullman Avenue has never had good accessibility for walkers or cyclists," Magee said. "The sidewalk wasn't even completed until three weeks into the school year. I had to escort the kids up and down the hill. The idea is to create a safe zone."

Magee is the first crossing guard at the tracks. School District 833 transportation director Gary Dechaine said last week he put a guard at the crossing since there are sixth-grade students now attending Oltman.

"We decided to take the extra precaution," he said. "We'll re-evaluate the crossing at the end of the school year."

Seventh-grade student Sara Calhoun walks up and down the hill most days. She said she felt safe in the afternoons but not in the morning. "I'm usually half asleep in the morning," she said. "And the buses coming down the hill scare me."

"The crossing isn't people- friendly," Magee said. "It took me three weeks to train students to use the sidewalk. I want to make sure the crossing is safe."

Magee said the number of students who use the sidewalk varies depending on the weather and whether there is a game at Oltman. Students from both the middle and the elementary schools use the route, he said.

According to Flandrich, Burlington Northern has agreed to remove the concrete pads between the tracks in the street area, re-establish the bedding material, realign the rails, re-install the concrete pads and build a temporary timber sidewalk over the rails that will connect to the sidewalk on the east and west side of the tracks.

The city's contractor, Northwest Asphalt, will prepare the ground and install concrete extensions to meet Burlington Northern's temporary crossing. The work will be paid for as part of the 2009 street project, Flandrich said.

He said barricades and detour signs would be in place a week before work begins.