Leader Blues

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

TOP STORY >> Rail crossing needed, city says

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer

Jacksonville has asked the Arkansas Highway Department to put in a new at-grade railroad crossing at Graham Road, citing a low hazard rating and economic needs.

The city should have some kind of an answer after Labor Day.

The crossing was closed temporarily when the $3.2 million Main Street overpass was built in 2001, and then later permanently closed. Concrete traffic barriers line both the south and north sides of the old crossing.

Mayor Gary Fletcher, who believes that the closing has harmed economic activity in Sunnyside and the east side of Jacksonville, said that the crossing can’t be reopened.

“That’s a dead horse, but we can and have requested a new crossing be constructed in the exact same spot,” the mayor said.

City administrator Jim Durham sent a letter to Dan Flowers, the director of the state Highway Department, making the request.
In the letter, Durham says that the environmental assessment for the Main Street railroad grade separation, dated May 8, 2000, gave the Graham Road crossing a hazard rating of 17.63 on a rating scale of zero to 100, with 100 being the most hazardous.

Durham told Flowers in the letter that about one-third of the city’s population lives east of the railroad.

“The city of Jacksonville believes a new at-grade crossing to be in the best interest of these residents and vital to the economic redevelopment of Graham Road and the surrounding area,” Durham wrote.

The Highway Department received the letter last week, but Flowers has been out of the office.

“We are doing the research and will respond to Jacksonville’s request as soon as we can,” said Glen Bolick, a spokesman for the Highway Department.

“At this point, I don’t know what will be in our response. This involves more than just us,” Bolick said. “We’ve also got to research what the railroad’s stance was and why.”

He added that the Highway Department would have to review all the agreements that it has and those with the railroad.

He said there is no timetable to respond to the city. “Rather than send a letter saying we are looking into it, we are going to look into it and then give the city our opinion,” Bolick said.

Former Mayor Tommy Swaim has said that the railroad overpass was built to alleviate traffic concerns and improve safety. The $3.2 million bridge opened April 17, 2003.

“It was a dangerous intersection with trains ... there were accidents and some deaths (at the Main Street intersection),” Swaim said.

When the overpass opened to motorists, it was cited in a news story that the improvement would help ease the memory of a 1979 crash at the crossing that killed four teenagers.

Jacksonville approved an ordinance in 2001, which called for the closing of the Graham Road crossing once the Main Street overpass was built.