Local and state officials gathered this week on top of the new railroad overpass on Hanson Boulevard to mark the completion of the project which has been years in the making.
It took two construction seasons to complete all of the work on what can be described as three bridges in one. It includes a tunnel for 108th Lane, north of the tracks and a pedestrian tunnel to the south. The ribbon cutting was the proverbial cherry on top of a $25 million dollar project.
"It is the goal of emergency responders to get to the scene of the emergency as quickly and as safely as possible,” said John Piper, the Coon Rapids Fire Chief. “This location has long been a challenge in our community to get to those calls quickly.”
Fire Chief John Piper has been the man behind the Herculean task of getting a railroad overpass built in Coon Rapids. So it was appropriate for him to serve as the master of ceremonies for the ribbon cutting.
Many who made this bridge possible gathered to mark its completion, like Anoka County Board Chair, Scott Schulte.
"We’re standing here today on this bridge of a strong partnership between several stakeholders who recognize the need for a grade separated overpass," Schulte said.
The 2017 Minnesota Legislature passed the bonding bill, signed by Governor Dayton, which committed the state to paying half the costs.
"Trains would block the crossing from six to eight minutes, sometimes as much as twenty-five minutes,” said Minnesota Speaker of the House, Melissa Hortman. “And as somebody who drove through here a lot, for door knocking and coffee with constituents,… I noticed."
Just then a freight train passed loudly underneath the bridge.
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway put in money for the bridge. And since the Northstar Commuter Rail uses the tracks at the Hanson Boulevard crossing, Anoka County’s Transit Improvement Board put up a large share of the funds, according to Schulte.
“We were allowed $4.2 million dollars from the Transit Board, the city coughed up 1.1 million, the county’s in for 1.4 million, 12.6 from state bonding funds, said Schulte.
"This is a big thing,” said Jerry Koch, the mayor of Coon Rapids.
While the bridge was still under construction, it was credited for helping speed up the emergency response time for Koch’s 100 year old mother.
"On June 16th when my mom collapsed outside in her yard, having suffered a major stroke,” Koch said. “And with our top-rated Mercy Hospital and our EMT’s and two of our three fire stations on the opposite side of the railroad tracks, the fact that no one responding was delayed by a train was huge."
Instead of the usual ribbon cutting, the three arms of public safety used gauze bandage, police tape and a fire hose to do the trick. And finally, as the public safety vehicles, with their emergency lights flashing, paraded over the bridge Chief Piper summed up the journey to get to this day.
“The goal of allowing public safety to respond to emergencies without being obstructed at the railroad crossing is huge,” said Piper.
Besides the improved public safety response times, the Hanson Boulevard overpass bridge eliminates vehicle traffic backups from trains. It also allows the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway to use the tracks as a staging area, where trains can wait for clearance to enter the Northtown Rail Yard in Minneapolis.