State regulators today approved funds to improve the safety of a railroad crossing in Yakima County.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approved almost $20,000 from the Grade Crossing Protective Fund to pay for upgrades at a railroad-highway crossing at South Track Rd. in Yakima.

Yakima County plans to use the funds to install solar-powered advance warning signs with constant-flashing LED blinkers on both approaches to the railroad crossing on South Track Rd. BNSF Railway Co. has reported several close calls between trains and vehicles at this crossing.

These proposed constant-flashing advance warning signs will improve the overall safety at the crossing because the LED flashing lights will provide greater visibility of the upcoming railroad crossing for the motoring public.

South Track Rd. is a two-lane roadway that carries about 850 vehicles each day. Commercial vehicles make up about 1 percent of total daily traffic. Two school buses travel over the crossing each day. Freight trains operate over this crossing 10 times a day at 55 to 60 miles per hour.

State GCPF funding is limited to $19,932.84 for the project. The upgrades must be completed by June 1, 2014.

The Legislature created the GCPF in 1969 to provide money for safety measures designed to decrease the potential for accidents and fatalities at public and private crossings and along railroad tracks in the state. The UTC administers the fund.

The UTC is the state agency responsible for railroad safety, including approving new grade crossings and closing or altering existing rail crossings. The agency investigates train accidents, inspects public-railroad crossings, approves rail-safety improvement projects and manages Operation Lifesaver, a rail-safety education program in Washington and nationwide.