The University of Iowa

Pedestrian Overpass for 4th Street Rail Crossing

Rail Crossing Overpass
Academic Year 
2020-2021
College/Department 
Civil and Environmental Engineering
Project Partner 
Led by 

Civil & Environmental Engineering students will design a pedestrian overpass that prevents unsafe crossings at a busy railroad and street intersection in Waterloo, Iowa.

The City of Waterloo is exploring ways to improve safety and mobility at a rail crossing and, in particular, seeks to better understand options for creating a pedestrian overpass of the Canadian National Railroad adjacent to E. 4th Street. Currenlty, pedestrians can also cross the rails at grade-level, which has led to both lengthy delays and even injuries as individuals try to get through stalled train cars.  The overpass would allow for pedestrians to get across the rails safely and eliminates the long waits.  Key aspects of this project are that the structure design that will fit withing the area, be attractive, and require relatively minimal maintenance.

The primary goal of this project was to provide the community with a safe method to cross the tracks, especially when train cars are parked in the intersection. While cars and trucks can easily take a detour when the tracks are blocked, there are no easy paths for foot traffic. Pedestrians are forced to either wait for up to an hour, or dodge between rail cars. Furthermore, this location sees a large amount of pedestrian foot traffic due to the nearby school, businesses, and local neighborhood.

The safety of Waterloo residents, those of the surrounding neighborhood in particular, is the most notable impact of this project. The design and construction of this overpass was and is significantly overdue as the railyard currently poses a fatal threat to pedestrians, and has been the site of numerous injuries. The project site is only six blocks from the nearest high school. With the implementation of this overpass, greater safety of students walking to and from school every day will be achieved. The layout of the bridge and its access points was chosen in part to optimize the safety of bridge patrons.

The engineering project team designed a pedestrian railroad crossing contains all relevant items to meet the needs of the community.  The structure is in an urban setting with limited space, and the piers are placed outside of the railroad’s right of way. Due to the limited space, an elevator and staircase were chosen as means of access on the south end of the bridge. On the north end, the bridge ties into a public park and is accessed by way of a spiral ramp. Having an elevator on one side and ramp on the other makes this bridge compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In addition to this accessibility goal, it was important to design a structure that would enhance the uniqueness of the area. Elements like the spiral ramp access point in the park and the cable-stayed structure were chosen to prioritize the aesthetic of the bridge and its relation to its surroundings. To accomplish this, the engineering team researched the local area and involved the client and the neighborhood services coordinator in the aesthetic decision-making process.

The cable-stayed pedestrian bridge design includes: superstructure, substructure, spiral ramp access point, elevator tower access point, aesthetics, site design, and a complete construction cost estimate.