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Friday, April 30, 2010

MDOT plans Hub City railroad crossing changes

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February 14, 2001

The Rev. Brian Davis quips that he may have to change the name of his church, Bay Street Presbyterian, to "Can't Get Here From There" if the Mississippi Department of Transportation permanently shuts down the railroad crossing near an intersection to the church, the Hattiesburg American reports.

The pastor says the steep crossing has served as the main traffic artery for his Hattiesburg congregation for the 100 years the church has been at that location.

"For our longtime members, it will be an inconvenience but not a great hardship," Davis said. "They know how to get around town. The difficulty for us will be guests - people who are visiting for worship or concerts that we're hosting."

In January, MDOT hosted a public hearing where plans to modify 29 railroad crossings in Hattiesburg over the next few years were revealed. Among the railway changes were 10 closures to vehicle traffic. MDOT officials said the project has been under extensive engineering and planning review for more than four years.

"This project was proposed to MDOT by the Illinois Central/Canadian National Railway in line with the ... suggestion to eliminate 25 percent of existing highway-rail grade crossings in the country," Monica Ramsey, MDOT's intermodal transportation planner, said in an e-mail.

Ramsey said the project would make the "motoring public safer by eliminating redundant crossings and having active warning devices that will give citizens better notice of an approaching train."

At the hearing, officials said the plans weren't set in stone and that public comments and concerns would be considered, but city officials have indicated even they have very little power to stop any of the closings.

"I'm very sensitive to the concerns about the railroad closings and have sought legal advice," Councilman Dave Ware said. "And the advice of the city attorney was that MDOT has the authority to force closure and crossings they deem with a particular hazard."

Ramsey said although there haven't been any accidents at the crossing near Bay Street Presbyterian, there have been several "near misses."

"We try to be proactive to prevent accidents from happening," Ramsey said. "If we had to rate the crossings in the city from one to 10 (with 10 being the most dangerous), that one would have been ranked 10 for potential accidents. With that hump back and steep crossing, you can't get two vehicles across it."

Davis said he has witnessed a number of commercial trucks getting stuck on the crossing as well.

"I know that it is a real hazard," Davis said. "But it's difficult to accept that the church will be hindered in ministry because there are those that don't obey the already posted traffic laws."