Leader Blues

Saturday, October 17, 2009

EDITORIAL >> City to meet with railroad

Here’s a rarely heard piece of good news for the Sunnyside addition in Jacksonville: City officials and the Union Pacific railroad will soon start negotiations to open the Graham Road crossing that the Jacksonville City Council voted to close permanently a few years ago.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher’s successful campaign included a promise to open the Graham Road railroad crossing. He has contacted the Union Pacific railroad about the city’s intention to remove the barriers from the crossing. Sunnyside has been cut off from the rest of the city, creating economic hardship and steep losses in property values — not to mention inconveniencing thousands of motorists who have to drive to the Main Street overpass just to get to, for example, the soon-to-be opened
Lighthouse Academy on the other side of Graham Road.

In a letter to Fletcher, a Union Pacific official said the railroad is worried that opening the Graham Road crossing might put “Jacksonville residents at risk.” Union Pacific wants to meet with city officials to discuss safety issues before the crossing is reopened.

While the railroad talks about safety issues, it should understand that Sunnyside is the most dangerous area in the city.

Barricades at a crossing not only bring blight to an area but encourage crime, driving out businesses and leading to white flight. Businesses across the tracks from Sunnyside have also suffered as both North First Street and Graham Road are less traveled. The widening of Graham Road is on hold because far fewer drivers use the thoroughfare since the road was closed.

But the closed crossing hasn’t necessarily made the area safer. Pedestrian traffic continues over the tracks. Someone will get hurt going over the tracks — not just criminals who often run from police but poor people constantly crossing the tracks and walking home with grocery bags because they have no place to shop in Sunnyside.

The mayor recently wrote to Union Pacific that the closing has created hardship in the Sunnyside neighborhood, which has no retail outlets or even a gas station. He pointed out there was no economic-impact study made before the crossing was closed. Maybe that’s because Sunnyside is an economically depressed area, so its well-being didn’t figure in the decision to close the crossing.

Fletcher is committed to revitalizing Sunnyside, fighting crime and bringing back motorists who have abandoned Graham Road because of the crossing.

The Fletcher administration can help revive Sunnyside and the areas adjoining it by allowing for another way to get in and out of the area.

The railroad paid the city $150,000 to close both the Graham Road and Main Street crossings and get rid of the headache of maintaining them.

The people want the crossing opened, and we’re glad city hall is now on their side, too. Giving Union Pacific back $75,000 to open just one crossing would be a small price to pay to open up the neighborhood and make Jacksonville a safer place.