NEEDLES — In an historic residential neighborhood along an original alignment of Route 66 and adorned each year with murals painted by Needles High School students, the K Street railway underpass may be as charming as it is important to traffic.
It’s also noted to be unforgiving to the inattentive who attempt to drive high-profile vehicles underneath it, which led to an Oct. 31 meeting between officials from the city of Needles, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, and the California Public Utility Commission on the possibility of closing it.
City Manager Rick Daniels issued a report on the meeting. The conclusion: “… a commitment to protect the bridge structure, keep the underpass open to through traffic and monitor ways to minimize accidents.”
Motorists in Needles quickly find there are only two local routes traversing the BNSF tracks which have been the city’s lifeblood since its conception: the K Street underpass and the Broadway overpass. Both see hundreds, perhaps thousands, of vehicles a day bound for North Needles, Laughlin and the Mohave Valley. “The K Street underpass is a critical regional and local transportation link between the I-40 and the Arizona Bridge and must be kept open,” said Daniels in his report; quoting City Councilor Tim Terral as adding, “The city has undertaken every reasonable notification measure to warn drivers of the height limitation at the underpass and will continue to do so.”
Those measures include advance warning signs blocks before the underpass; signage on the edifice itself; and hanging barriers such as those found in parking garages that are bumped before slamming into the structure eight feet above the road bed.
Eight feet, Daniels pointed out, is too low for many trucks, campers and recreational vehicles.
If anything, the railway on top is even more critical: the lifeblood of a nation between ports in the west and markets in the east over which more than 100 trains a day must pass. “Vehicle damage to the bridge would cause a major disruption to the nation’s rail transport and Amtrak system,” Daniels said.
Almost a decade ago BNSF built a barrier along both sides of the tracks to protect the passage. “Vehicle incidents involve hitting that protective beam and not the bridge itself,” Daniels added.
Still, drivers crash into it. On July 2 of this year a vehicle hit one of the protective beams hard enough to bend it. The collision closed the underpass to street traffic for several days, though train traffic continued to use the railway on top.