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Two U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) agencies should evaluate whether a federal program that helps fund grade-crossing improvements gives states enough flexibility to address their own safety problems, according to a General Accountability Office (GAO) report issued last week.The GAO is recommending that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) administrator work with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to evaluate the Section 130 program's requirements to determine whether they allow states enough flexibility to adequately address current and emerging grade-crossing safety issues.The federal government provides states funding to improve grade crossing safety under the Section 130 program."Officials we spoke with in eight states reported challenges in pursuing certain types of projects that could further enhance safety, in part because of federal requirements," GAO officials wrote. "While safety has improved, many crashes occur at grade crossings with gates, and officials said there could be additional ways to focus program requirements to continue improving safety."Although the FHWA reports the program has been effective in reducing fatalities at grade crossings by 74 percent since 1975, there have been 250 fatalities since 2009. The FRA anticipates that number of crashes to continue to increase, in part because of an anticipated increase in rail and highway traffic, according to the report."An evaluation of the program should consider whether its funding and other requirements allow states to adequately address ongoing safety issues," the report stated.Crashes at grade crossings are one of the leading causes of railroad-related deaths, according to the FRA.
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