Fixes for blocked railroad crossing in Butler County carry hefty price tag



Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens says trying to free a St. Clair Twp. neighborhood from blocked railroad crossings is not going to be easy, and some of the options have sky-high price tags.

Wilkens this week presented the county commissioners with cost estimates, pros and cons and possible outside funding options for four solutions that could free Cedar Grove residents held hostage by stopped trains. They range from $60 million to $2 million.

“What are we trying to do, what’s the primary goal, is it for emergency services or is it just access in and out of the place...,” Wilkens said. “Here’s the other problem when you’re we’re dealing with all the problems we have, funding is the number one goal in all of this. We can engineer our way out of about anything, it’s just finding the money to do it.”

A group of Cedar Grove residents petitioned the commissioners last summer asking for help. Back then Pam Stroup, spokeswoman for the residents, told the commissioners there have been medical emergencies where life squads couldn’t get in or residents seeking help couldn’t get out. There are 215 homes in the subdivision and from October 2019 until May 2021 all three railroad crossings have been blocked for between eight minutes to 2.5 hours, and those stoppages are now happening around twice a month.

“It’s getting worse and someone in our subdivision is going to die waiting on a life squad to arrive due to the roadway being blocked by a train,” Stroup said.

Monday she said since July 10 they have been blocked in 14 times for between 7 minutes to 1.5 hours. She said it is not just about emergency access but residents have been late for work, kids tardy at school and just the general inconvenience of not being able to come and go at will.

The residents offered four options to open access and Wilkens has estimated the cost for each:

  • Option 1: $60.3 million to connect Fear Not Mills Road to Treiber Road which requires building two bridges over Four Mile Creek;
  • Option 2: $16.4 million to reconnect the two legs of West Elkton Road to West Elkton Road would require a lengthy bridge due to the flood plain;
  • Option 3: $2 million to build a new road parallel to the railroad tracks;
  • Option 4: $14.1 million to build a bridge over the railroad tracks at Spring Road.

Wilkens said there are issues to overcome with each of the options — including the flood plain and land acquisition to name a couple — and none of them can be accomplished quickly. The first two options he said “from a cost standpoint and other standpoints are really not that feasible.”

The cheapest option, building a parallel road he said would mean longer emergency response times and a Spring Road bridge — which would be similar to South Hamilton Crossing — is probably the best option, notwithstanding the price.

“It provides the residents the most convenient access to 127 which is probably the number one route in, it’s the shortest route, besides the first first option, for emergency services to come in...,” Wilkens said. “It’s a shorter bridge, 230 feet in length but it’s over a railroad, anytime you’re dealing with a railroad the situations become more expensive and more difficult.”

The Journal-News reached out to the Norfolk Southern railroad about the issue.

“We never want to inconvenience a member of the community with blocked crossings. Our railroad plays a vital role in the nation’s supply chain, helping to move the goods that power our economy,” Media Relations Manager Connor Spielmaker replied via email.

“In some instances, our trains are held on the track while other rail traffics proceeds ahead. We are working hard to keep our trains moving efficiently and minimize these types of impacts. We continue to value our dialogue with local officials on local solutions that benefit the community.”

Wilkens has been extremely successful in culling outside grants, securing 70% grant funding for major road and bridge projects since 2017. His projects totaled $76.7 million and were awarded $53.7 million in state and federal grants.

Grants for this project however will be hard to get because the number of cars traveling in that area and accidents are low, both of which are scoring factors in the competitive grant process, “these just don’t have the numbers” Wilkens said but he’ll continue to look.

He said he and Ohio Rep. Thomas Hall are supposed to meet with Matt Dietrich, the executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission and there is the new federal transportation funding to consider.

Commissioner Don Dixon told the Journal-News it is really up to the residents now to decide what is most important to them, because he envisions they will be paying at least some of the cost through an assessment.

“They’ve kind of got the ball now, do they want the $2 million or the $14 million,” Dixon said. “An assessment would be the county would borrow the money, make the fix and it gets assessed on their real estate taxes for 30 years. There’s a number of ways it can happen but it’s very, very expensive obviously.”

Commissioner T.C. Rogers told the Journal-News said when they consider providing funding they also have to keep in mind there are other areas countywide plagued with train stoppages too. He said at this point in time “I just don’t think it’s feasible to do the overpass.”

Since the residents started this is a formal petition process the commissioners will be required to hold a public hearing on the options.

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