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DOT hears mixed reactions to closing of rail crossing

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — For most of her life, Mary Gray has lived off Henderson Grove Church Road near her church of the same name.

She first heard of the proposed closing of the road’s rail crossing Sunday, and she’s against it. The quickest way for Gray to reach South Main Street and proceed to work is by using the crossing.

She’s never had any accidents or problems getting over the tracks, except for some long waits while freight trains were going through or even stopped. The crossing is well-signaled with flashers and gates.

Gray and other Henderson Grove Church Road residents and property owners visited the City Park Recreation Center late Thursday afternoon to hear N.C. Department of Transportation representatives explain the plans and reasons why the rail crossing probably will be closed.

Many other at-grade crossings in this north-south corridor between Salisbury and Kannapolis have been shut down or are scheduled for closing as the N.C. DOT Rail Division follows through on plans to lay an additional track.

That track will lead to an increase in both freight and passenger trains, including high-speed passenger service between Charlotte and Raleigh.

The DOT says the closing of the Henderson Grove Church Road crossing “is part of an effort to reduce the number of redundant and/or unsafe rail-highway at-grade crossings.”

The DOT’s timetable for this particular closing would two to three years.

The crossing would stay open until a new access road between Henderson Grove Church Road and Julian Road is built and ready for traffic. The proposed road would line up with the end of Corporate Circle off Julian Road — the end closest to Interstate 85.

Pat Ivey, division engineer for the DOT, estimated the new road would be a half-mile to three-quarters of a mile long.

John Leatherman, who owns property the new connecting road would pass through,  says it would represent “a tremendous economic benefit” to the city and county. It opens up previously undeveloped land — sites which would have close access to a Town Creek sewer line, Leatherman said.

If you look at a map and plot all the development that has happened in this area, you would see how the city has grown around this donut hole, he said.

“This has been a dead zone,” Leatherman added.

Other positives of the new road would be that it’s the shortest distance to Julian Road and no houses or other structures exist that would have to be torn down or moved, Leatherman said. “They’re going to close it, no doubt about that,” he said.

According to the DOT, the existing train traffic includes 39 freight trains a day, going at 50 mph, and eight passenger trains a day, traveling at 79 mph.

The average daily vehicle traffic using the crossing is 2,100, a number Ivey judged to be average or maybe a bit higher than average for crossings slated for closure.

DOT cited Amtrak as having recorded three accidents at the crossing in the past 10 years.

But Daniel L. Havener, project engineer for the DOT, said one of the main concerns with this crossing was its accident history, which he said included 10 mishaps since the late 1970s.

Havener said the DOT has met with city and county officials and representatives of fire, police and Emergency Medical Services, who have all agreed that response times will not suffer to this area, as long as the new access road is built.

‘We had the same emergency response concerns you did,” Havener told Brad Mobley, a member of Henderson Grove Missionary Baptist Church.

As things are now with an open crossing, Havener noted, emergency response vehicles can find their way blocked anyway when trains are passing through.

The Henderson Grove Missionary Baptist Church’s congregation has had a church in this area since 1812, and the current building was constructed in 1961.

“Obviously we’re concerned about keeping that legacy going,” said Mobley, whose family has been members of the church for more than 100 years.

Mobley expressed concerns about longer emergency response times to the church with a closed crossing and longer drive times for members from Salisbury and points west. Henderson Grove Church Road currently extends from South Main Street to Peach Orchard Road.

“I would rather they leave it open,” church member Berlin Torrence said of the crossing. Torrence added he was worried about the church’s becoming isolated and difficult to reach for out-of-town members and guests.

Henry Saine owns two homes and properties on Henderson Grove Church Road, and he said he can see how closing the crossing makes sense, given the increase in freight and passenger train traffic that will come with the additional north-south track.

Saine said he thinks the closing is not so much about the coming of a high-speed train as  it is about saving fuel and keeping freight trains moving, especially through this area where trains often stop for long periods.

“I don’t have any problem with it as long as the access road is open when the crossing closes,” Saine said. He has lived along the road for about 35 years.

Members of Henderson Grove Missionary Baptist first learned of the proposed closing of their rail crossing from a newspaper notice taken out by the DOT in Sunday’s edition.

“We haven’t even had time to meet about it,” Mobley said.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.




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