Railroad Pedestrian Crossings, University of Memphis

Memphis, Tennessee

♦ 2017 ACEC Tennessee – Small Projects Honoree ♦

The University of Memphis opened its doors on September 10, 1912.  Today, the University is one of Tennessee’s three comprehensive doctoral-extensive institutions of higher learning. It is the Flagship Institution of the Tennessee Board of Regent’s system.

As the University grew, so did its footprint which now includes buildings and parking on the south side of the Norfolk Southern Railway and Southern Avenue.  With more than 3,000 parking spaces on the south side of the tracks and street and with classrooms on the north side, thousands of students are forced to cross the rails by foot daily.  For decades, racing to beat the train has been a regular part of the college experience.

The University of Memphis campus security noted that in 2015, there were over 500 deaths and over 400 injuries reported in the United States from train crossing incidents. Allen & Hoshall was selected by the Tennessee Board of Regents for a project to make safer, more attractive pedestrian crossings for the active railroad dividing the campus.  The project created three pedestrian crossings, and the design included passive gates, pedestrian signals to flash and sound warnings of an approaching train, solar-powered lights to illuminate the crossings at night, and a sidewalk running parallel to Southern Avenue and the tracks.

A federal grant administered through the Tennessee Department of Transportation funded 80 percent of the project cost.

Allen & Hoshall provided Project Management, Civil Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Land Surveying, and Construction Administration and Inspection Services for the pedestrian improvements and railroad crossings.  The pedestrian crossings are more than grade crossings. They have solar-powered lighting and flashing crossing lights and audible signals as a train approaches. The crossings meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards, and they have gates designed to make pedestrians think before they cross.

In order to increase public awareness and better understand the design and how it would improve current conditions, Allen & Hoshall created a 3D Model. This model included actual ground models, surveying data, existing utility plans, construction documents, landscaping plans and created an interactive environment communicating the impact of the project in the context of the surrounding area.  The 3D model offered technical and nontechnical stakeholders a much better understanding of the development plans by displaying them in the setting of the surrounding environment.

The project includes a new sidewalk on the north side of Southern Avenue which is a central element in tying together the more pedestrian friendly elements underway in other nearby projects. These improvements include streetscape improvements on Walker Avenue and the land bridge from the campus area south of the tracks into the heart of the University’s traditional campus and alumni mall.

“It’s more attractive obviously, but the sidewalk on the north side of Southern, so that you can traverse from where you park your car to the safe crossing, is an integral part of the whole project,” Poteet said.

The most prominent of the three pedestrian crossings is where Echles Street dead ends into Southern Avenue on the south side of the tracks. The crossing is directly south of the Alumni Mall and the Administration Building at the other end of the mall.  On the South side of this intersection, a new Recreation Center and Parking Garage will be constructed.

“They are passive gates,” said Tony Poteet, assistant Vice President of Campus Planning and Design for The University of Memphis. “Those gates, they would never lock you in between the gates. They are intended to let you know you are entering a dangerous area, for you to watch out.”

Since the project is located along an active railroad and a busy urban street, was in the middle of a college campus, and was funded by the State, this project was burdened with complex issues from the very beginning.  There were numerous safety issues to address both in the design and construction phase of the project for the students and design/construction staff.  In addition, the project was constructed on property that belonged to the Norfolk Southern Railway and was primarily funded by the State of Tennessee.  As a result, each stakeholder (Tennessee Board of Regents, Norfolk Southern Railroad, Tennessee Department of Transportation, City of Memphis, and the University of Memphis) had unique requirements that required extensive coordination. Since the project was funded through a federal grant administered through the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the budget didn’t allow for the flexibility necessary to accommodate all stakeholders’ requirements.  As a result, Allen & Hoshall worked tirelessly to address all client and stakeholders’ concerns and provided unique alternatives to deliver a safe, functional, and attractive solution on schedule.


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