COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Millions of state and federal dollars are coming into Ohio to help an issue that’s been around for a while: blocked railroad crossings.
It’s something that at times can be a simple inconvenience, while at other times it can be life-threatening.
Ohio is the third worst state in the country when it comes to reports of blocked railroad crossings, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. Number one is Texas and number two is Illinois.
Over the last 12 months, there have been more than 1700 reports across the state. 145 of those are in Franklin County, with almost 50 of those reports coming in about Williams Road, near Obetz.
People can submit complaints, and they have about the Williams Road crossing and many others, with comments including: “I mean 10-15 minutes no big deal, 30+ minutes for nothing is ridiculous” and “Will anything be done?”
“Williams Road has a history of trains stopping across the roadway, and there’s been a lot of delay in that area,” Columbus City Engineer/Administrator of the Division of Design and Construction James Young said.
There is law in Ohio that states no train can block a public road for longer than five minutes and if it does someone can submit a violation report. There are some exceptions such as for a long moving train or circumstances out of the railroad company’s control.
Columbus knows about the problem and now it’s taking steps to address it.
“We just submitted two applications to the Ohio Rail Development Commission for Williams Road and Hilliard Rome Road Galloway Extension to get help preparing grants,” Young said.
A grade separation project would look like a bridge over or tunnel under the tracks. It can cost millions of dollars and take a lot of time. It’s something the state is putting $100 million into.
“One thing that we realized early on is these are really expensive projects, on average, since about 2000, the average cost has been about 17 million for a grade separation, and that’s only gone up with inflation recently,” Executive Director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission Matthew Dietrich said.
For many areas, this cost is out of reach.
“What we’re hoping to do with the state money is to help communities develop these projects so they can be competitive for the federal funds, and really develop a pipeline of projects,” Dietrich said.
The projects are about safety and convenience.
“If you eliminate those interactions between railroad, trains and vehicles, you’re going to make things safer for the community. There’s also a community development aspect to this. Emergency vehicles can be delayed by grade crossings being blocked,” Dietrich said.
The Williams Road crossings hit on both of these aspects.
“It’s going to allow for you know, first of all safety services to respond quickly, but also allowing for freight movement of people just through the area,” Young said.
The city is planning a study on the Williams Road corridor early next year. The plan is to look at the entire corridor and railroad crossings and see what improvements need to be made to solve the mobility issues.