Improving fencing along the CP Rail mainline through the downtown shopping district is slated for 2018 as part of an evolving strategy to improve rail safety and enhance the rail corridor through the community.

The town budget draft includes $150,000 to improve and repair fencing along the CP Rail mainline through the Historic Downtown. This applies to only the fencing the town is responsible to maintain; private landowners are responsible for their own.

Yet in reality, it's just a small piece in an ongoing effort to address an issue that has been amplified by Cochrane's rapid growth and the subsequent traffic congestion and that includes the movement of pedestrians and cyclists.

Rick Deans, Cochrane Infrastructure senior manager, says they have been working with stakeholders, including CP Rail, Transport Canada and residents, to address pedestrian rail safety issues and there's a growing spirit of cooperation towards major initiatives in the work.

"As a result of all that and continued discussions with stakeholder groups we need to clean up that corridor through the core at first and see if we can add and enhance existing fencing or new fencing where there may be gaps, and continue to try and create a safe environment," Deans explains.

Maintaining the fencing has been a challenge, especially when people continue to create own routes across the tracks.

"It's been an ongoing thing where we've had to continually go out and repair the fencing where people have modified the chainlink fence to access a shortcut across the tracks," explains Deans.

So a bigger picture solution in the works is the development of a grade-separated pedestrian crossing from Railway St. to 1st St. W. into the Historic Downtown.

"Having the crossing at that location in the centre of town, we feel will discourage travellers from short-circuiting when there's an actual crossing there," says Deans.

Being grade separated, it would also be safer and CP Rail is throwing their support behind the town's application for funding towards the project from Transport Canada.

"They're with us and they're the ones that actually suggested to us that they would certainly endorse any kind of application we would have for a grade-separated crossing in the downtown core and that they would be willing to look at their right away and how the municipality and railway can work together."

It's the same collaborative spirit that has greeted the completion of a pedestrian crossing at Horse Creek, in west Cochrane. that is now in the planning stages.

In the town's 10-year financial strategy, the grade-separated pedestrian crossing is estimated to cost $7.7 million with funding from the Community Revitalization Levy being collected from the Quarry development. You won't see construction in 2018 but the town does hope to get right aways and the design approved in the coming year.

The Horse Creek crossing is a $1.66 million project and is also in the planning stages. Both projects are now on the clock and the financial plan calls for them both to be completed by the early 2020s.

Important as this is, the traffic congestion hampered by having only one grade-separated road connecting north and south Cochrane is a larger, more expensive challenge.

Establishing a grade separation for the Centre Ave. railway crossing is the ultimate goal of the town but currently, that’s many years away and when it does occur will cost upwards of $30 million.

What Cochrane Infrastructure is currently examining, with the support of town council, is more immediate projects that can occur in the interlude.

Council has supported expanding the scope of the Centre Ave. project to look at ways of improving traffic flow from Hwy. 1A to Railway and Centre Ave. to 5th. It proposals increasing the funding to $303,500 from $173,500 to allow for the wide scope of the project.

"That doesn't mean we're advancing a grade separation design right now," says Deans. "We want to look at that corridor and see how potentially we could enhance it."

He is also leery of pushing for making Centre Ave. four lanes at this point, largely because it means the town would be throwing away work and financial resources for a short-term fix.

He believes there are some more creative solutions that will be derived in the transportation engineering review, such as considering three lanes, a traffic circle on 1A at the intersection of Centre Ave. and tweaking the pre-emption protocol of traffic lights to create better movement.

"We want to continually have a better system in place to ensure that are signals are performing as best as they can."

In the meantime, the expansion of Griffin Road corridor in preparation or the new river crossing has been shaping up, Currently street lights are being added to the roadway and in the spring landscaping, sidewalks and boulevards will be completed. Design work is underway for the future bridge.

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