A 'road over rail' bridge is being proposed to allow level crossings at Tileshed Lane and Boldon Lane in East Boldon, South Tyneside, to close permanently.
With the support of Network Rail, South Tyneside Council has developed the scheme as an alternative to replacing the existing half barriers with full barriers, which would significantly increase delays and congestion on the strategic road network.
The current half barriers are scheduled for complete renewal to improve safety, and to prevent people misusing them; however, full barriers take longer to operate, meaning barrier down time would be increased significantly, leading to longer delays and queuing traffic in the area.
Ground investigation works have begun to help understand conditions for a potential new bridge structure.
Cllr Mark Walsh, Lead Member for Housing and Transport, said: "Our absolute priority is safety.
"Half barrier crossings are open to misuse, and there have unfortunately been instances at these locations where vehicles have encroached on to the railway when the barriers are down, which is obviously extremely dangerous.
"Network Rail had already identified the need to upgrade these two crossings to full barrier operation to improve safety, however this would mean the lines being closed to vehicles for much longer.
"This would clearly have a huge knock-on effect in terms of congestion on the strategic road network, particularly in peak periods, as well as a detrimental effect on local air quality."
The council has undertaken a detailed feasibility study incorporating many considerations such as the overall footprint of a structure, potential land take, buildability, cost factors, wildlife and environmental factors.
Cllr Walsh added: "We need to look at alternative solutions, as doing nothing is not an option, and for some time now the council has been exploring the bridge option and identified that it is the only viable and sustainable alternative to full barriers.
"The proposed bridge scheme would improve safety, reduce travel times and improve local air quality by keeping traffic moving freely."
Enhanced cycle and walking infrastructure would be incorporated into the project, supporting other sustainable modes of transport and connectivity.
Local people are being invited to learn about the scheme in more detail, ask questions or provide feedback by visiting www.southtyneside.gov.uk/btlc.
Cllr Walsh added: "The scheme has been developed by expert consultants after a full appraisal, and detailed discussions with Natural England.
"However, as with any highways scheme, we know that residents can often have useful local knowledge or information which may be used to help refine the final designs."
The proposed bridge scheme is part of a wider programme of transport corridor improvements planned as part of the North East Transforming Cities funding programme. Network Rail will also financially support the project to help improve performance and safety of the rail line.
Andrew Cunningham, Route Level Crossing Manager for Network Rail, said: "We are committed to improving safety at Tile Shed level crossing and Boldon level crossing in East Boldon.
"We understand South Tyneside Council is exploring the option of building a road bridge as an alternative to full barriers and we are happy to support them as they bid for funding.
"This option would allow us to close both level crossings, where there is deliberate misuse, and further improve safety by taking motorists, cyclists and pedestrians away from the railway. It would also help to reduce traffic congestion in the area and be better for the environment.
"If the council is successful in securing the funding, Network Rail has agreed to make a contribution, which is money set aside for a project to upgrade the level crossings and install full barriers. However, if funding is not secured, the barrier improvement work will be carried out as part of a wider renewal scheme in the future."
For further information about the proposed scheme, visit www.southtyneside.gov.uk/btlc