County Engineer Greg Wilkens told the Journal-News three options could be cost prohibitive.
“Three of the four call for bridges, when you start building bridges they get expensive quickly,” Wilkens said. “From a cost standpoint you can look at it and eliminate the three pretty quickly I’m saying, it narrows it down to one from a cost standpoint, now is that the best solution, that remains to be seen.”
Wilkens won’t discuss cost estimates yet but said he can’t imagine it would cost as much as the $32 million South Hamilton Crossing overpass of Grand Boulevard above the CSX Railroad tracks. The South Hamilton overpass is a wider bridge and required more right-of-way purchases than a St. Clair structure might.
Pam Stroup, spokeswoman for the Cedar Grove residents, told the commissioners that 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,” Straub said.
Straub 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 she presented a petition to the commissioners asking for their help.
County Administrator Judi Boyko said since the residents filed a formal petition the commissioners are required to view the problem area. She said she is still working to convene a special meeting for that purpose. Then the commissioners will meet with Wilkens to discuss the options and decide if they can fund a fix.
Discussions with the railroads have been pointless according to State Rep. Thomas Hall, largely because they are federally protected. He has introduced a bill aimed at forcing railroads to be better neighbors. The bill would double the penalty for blocking railroad crossings from $5,000 to $10,000 if it happens more than once a month and requires the incidents be reported to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.
He said other local jurisdictions have told him the railroad crossings are also issues for them and he has their support, but he knows it is an uphill battle.
“Yes I understand the railroads are protected federally, yes I understand if it passes we’ll end up in court,” Hall said. “But we have to do something to stand up, or it’s just going to get worse and then someone is going to end up getting seriously hurt or dying.”
The Journal-News reached out to both Norfolk Southern and CSX railroads to discuss the issue. A CSX spokesperson said they are not the cause of the St. Clair problem but wouldn’t comment on the fact there are other areas of the county impacted by their crossings. Norfolk Southern didn’t respond at all.