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Council considers closing crossing

By Shelley Smithssmith@salisburypost.com
Jahmal Pullen, the NCDOT Rail Division’s engineering services manager, and Bill Barringer, Norfolk Southern’s director of grade crossing safety, attended Tuesday’s Salisbury City Council meeting, discussing and answering questions on the proposed closing of the Horah St. at-grade railroad crossing.
A public hearing was held on the proposed closing however, no action was made due to staff failing to post notification at the railroad crossings for the traveling public.
Salisbury Traffic Engineer, Wendy Brindle gave a history of the past nine crossing closings, stating that NCDOT recommended the Monroe Street or Horah Street crossing to close.
“In 2006, Norfolk Southern met with the city to discuss the closing of Horah Street,” Brindle said, which included First Calvary Baptist Church, who asked that the $42,000 incentive payment be used toward upgrading Lincoln Park. “As a part of the closing, DOT and Norfolk Southern would improve the Monroe Street (crossing).”
Pullen then spoke on behalf of NCDOT, addressing their future plans for Salisbury and Rowan County railroad crossings.
“Our focus is to improve safety along all rail corridors we have across the state,” Pullen said. “The line that runs through Salisbury is part of the high speed rail corridor.
“We are in the process of working on a corridor all the way from Richmond, Va., to Charlotte. Along that corridor we do everything we can to make the crossings as safe as possible.”
Pullen said the trains can reach speeds over 90 mph, and in the future, trains will be reaching 110 mph.
“From reports on the Amtrak and Norfolk Southern, there have been several near misses at that (Horah Street) railroad crossing,” Pullen said. “Close calls or someone who may have gone around the gates.”
Pullen added that the safety concerns are mainly due to lack of sight around the bend, where the rail is coming out of a curve.
“We could take the equipment we have at the Horah Street crossing and move those gates to Monroe Street, having gates on every lane of traffic, covering every quadrant of the crossing,” Pullen said. Pullen also said that NCDOT Rail Division has applied for funding through the American Reinvestment Act, and if awarded, the Richmond to Charlotte project could gain up to $1 billion, which would include improvements at the Klumac Road crossing.
“We think we’ve aligned ourselves very well in what we have applied for,” Pullen said. “We think that we’re very well along in the process compared to other corridors, such as California or Chicago.
“We’re doing pretty well and think we’ll be pretty successful. We’re going to be very busy come January and February working on the projects.”
Pullen said the projected projects will take six to seven years to complete.
Berringer of Norfolk Southern is also excited about the partnership.
“The DOT of NC is probably one of our best partners,” Berringer said. “This is a state that cares about its people. We are trying to improve that interface between rail users and highway users.
“This is one of these cases that we have redundant crossings with equal access around the area. High speed rail has taken on a new light. I applaud the city for considering this closure.”
If the Horah Street crossing closes, the crossing will be sealed off with signs, plants and curbs, making it impossible for anyone to cross. The Monroe St. crossing will also be improved. All of the $42,000 incentive will go to First Calvary Baptist Church for Lincoln Park improvements.
“We want to make this high speed corridor as safe as we can,” Pullen said.
The Salisbury City Council will hold a public hearing at their Jan. 5 meeting, and will vote on the closure.
Also heavily discussed during Tuesday’s meeting was the Ellis St. bridge.
According to Dan Mikkelson, director of engineering and development for Salisbury, the Ellis St. bridge has been discussed since 1985, and time has run out.
Mikkelson presented the board a brief history of the bridge’s renovation/rebuilding options, which began in 1985, was revisited by the council in 1996, and revisited again in 2006, never getting any action from the council.
Mikkelson said that due to the lack of progress, the council must decide to either move forward with the bridge, or pay back the federal funding of $171,000. NCDOT is asking for a response by February.
Several options were presented to the board, however, Mikkelson pushed for the council to approve the construction of a three track bridge, that will help accommodate not only traffic, but the railroads as well.
He also gave a presentation, including Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell.
According to Mikkelson, 12 school buses and 12 city buses must use the Fulton St. at-grade railroad crossing, avoiding the more convenient Ellis St. bridge due to the lack of weight support.
“If an ambulance is trying to reach the hospital, and there is a train, the ambulance has to go around,” Mikkelson said, which adds 1.6 miles to the route, adding approximately three minutes to travel time.
“Adding three minutes to a trip to the hospital can mean the difference between life and death,” Mikkelson said, noting that the same goes for a fire.
“If there’s a fire, that area is generally a response area of Station One,” said Parnell. “If there is a train in the way, responders would radio to West Innes St. to go to Grove St., and then to that part of town. During a structural fire, all four fire stations are alerted and respond.
“In our operation, Station Three cannot go into a building on fire without another station there. If stations one and two are cut off by a train, they must wait for the Statesville Blvd. station to respond.”
The staff reccomendations were to build an alternative bridge. A public hearing is set for the future of the Ellis St. bridge for Jan. 5.
In other news:
– The Salisbury City Council acknowledged Salisbury Police Chief Mark Wilhelm for his 30 years of service with the Salisbury Police Department.
– The council acknowledged Gail Elder White, director of Salisbury Parks and Recreation, for receiving the Fellow Award from the NC Recreation and Parks Association.
– The council received a presentation on the 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, which found the City of Salisbury to have a clean audit.
– The council approved $698,500 to Gilbert Engineering Company for the construction of chlorination and dechlorination facilities at the Salisbury-Rowan Wastewater Treatment Plant.
– Council approved the reduction of speed in the Milford Knolls subdivision. The speed limit is now 25 mph.
– Council approved Salisbury Tourism and Cultural Development Commission members, which follow: Barbara Perry, Mark Lewis, Randy Hemann, Boris Buncich, David Redden, Krista Osterweil, Bill Burgin, Michelle Patterson and Paul Woodson.
The next Salisbury City Council meeting is Tuesday, Jan. 5, at 4 p.m.

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