Residents who may be affected by six permanent closings of railroad crossings in south Columbus can gather more information during a public hearing Thursday.
The hearing will feature representatives from the Mississippi Department of Transportation and Kansas City Southern Railway Company. It is slated to begin at 5 p.m. at the municipal complex.
City officials have not made any agreement to close the crossings but held a preliminary forum Monday for public input. Many residents spoke out against the possibility of crossing closings at Second, Sixth, Eighth, Ninth, 10th and 17th streets.
If the city votes to close the crossings, MDOT would help fund an upgrade to six other crossings that would remain open in the city. Those upgrades would get the crossings to MDOT safety standards.
MDOT would then install warning systems with arms that would descend and block the open crossings when a train travels through. The city could then install median barriers that would allow for a quiet zone, meaning train drivers would no longer have to blow horns at crossings as they are required to do currently.
An MDOT report indicates states may utilize funds to improve railroad crossings, including installing or upgrading warning devices, eliminating at-grade crossings or closing crossings.
Kevin Stafford of Neel-Schaffer engineering firm, which conducted a traffic study projecting the impact closures would have, said the program helps improve the crossings used the most.
“There is a safety factor to maintaining a crossing. The reason the money is put out for the program is because MDOT has enough background to show that by closing a crossing, it reduces the liability…and the cost of having an open crossing,” Stafford said. “By closing, in this case, six crossings, it would save them in the long run enough money to pay to upgrade the open crossings and increase that safety.”
Ward 1 councilman Gene Taylor said he was pleased with turnout Monday at the forum. He encouraged residents to attend Thursday to ask questions to MDOT and KCS officials.
“I did know there was going to be some feedback. I think most people just want safer railroads to cross throughout their community, not just in Ward 1, but throughout the city of Columbus,” Taylor said. “Even if they’re against the potential closing of the railroad crossings, I encourage them to come out and voice their opinion and ask the railroad (representatives) when they are going to make crossings safe for this community.”
In the past, Kansas City Southern Railroad has given the city $50,000 for a closure.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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