A car slows down to cross the railroad at 11th Street South in Columbus Thursday. Crossings in south Columbus have been a matter of concern for residents for some time. Photo by: Nathan Gregory/Dispatch Staff
January 17, 2014 10:18:25 AM
In August, officials from Kansas City Southern Railway and the Mississippi Department of Transportation fielded a number of responses from concerned citizens at a public hearing regarding the condition of 12 railroad crossings in south Columbus.
KCS' proposal was to work with MDOT to close the six least-traveled of the crossings, so the six most-traveled could be repaired and upgraded. A majority of responders at the public hearing were against that idea. Most cited traffic concerns.
The plan was scrapped. All 12 crossings remain open.
There was one consensus that came out of the situation: The crossings need repair. It is the railroad's responsibility to keep them up.
Ward 1 councilman Gene Taylor had an ad published in the Jan. 5 edition of The Dispatch encouraging anyone who had vehicular damage stemming from crossing the tracks to call KCS authorities and report it. He also listed his, Ward 2 councilman Joseph Mickens' and Ward 5 councilman Kabir Karriem's contact information and encouraged citizens to call either of the three councilmen if they had questions.
Taylor suggested the crossings are in the worst shape they've ever been in, and he's heard from plenty of people who agree with him. His constituents have called him citing rims falling off their cars, front-end alignment problems and flat tires as a result of spikes sticking up from a crossing. So many people have called him, he said, that he's lost count.
"It would be hard to put a number to it," Taylor said. "I would say in the hundreds of people that are really concerned with the condition of those railroad crossings. We can no longer blame everything on potholes. When I ride Ward 1, the streets themselves don't have that many potholes. Some of the incidents have to be coming from railroad crossings, which is one of the worst things we have in this city right now as far as infrastructure."
Asked about the situation Thursday, Doniele Carlson, corporate communications and community affairs spokesperson for KCS, said KCS had been waiting on word from the city since the public hearing in August.
"To address the 12 KCS crossings in Columbus, KCS proposed a plan to close six of the 12 crossings," she said. "The remaining six crossings would be resurfaced and have flashers and/or gates added in partnership with the State of Mississippi. The State and KCS are waiting on a response from the City."
Karriem said he's experienced a similar issue as councilman. In 2010, he was behind the effort that led to the closure of a crossing at Eighth Avenue due to its condition. Now, he said people come to the restaurant he helps manage and complain about the condition of the crossings in Southside.
"People stop by the restaurant all the time and tell me they hit something on the railroad track or a pothole," he said. "When I closed Eighth Avenue crossing, that was one of the reasons. The railroad company wouldn't repair the tracks and I had no recourse since they owned them, they wouldn't repair them and they didn't belong to the city. At that time people were busting their tires and oil pans crossing them. They were tearing their rims up."
Allen Pepper, director of public safety for KCS, told residents at the public forum five months ago that he had "dollars for this year (2013)" for capital improvements and had to spend them then. At the time, he said, "we're willing to fund the upgrades of the surfaces and the barricading of other crossings along with the flashers and gates MDOT is willing to put in ... We're talking all told somewhere in excess of $2 million in safety improvements for the city of Columbus."
The Dispatch called the number provided in Taylor's advertisement, 1-877-527-9464, twice Thursday. Each time the phone rang at least 10 times and the call was not forwarded to a voicemail.
Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.
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