St. Clair Twp. train trap will remain, for now

Funding for parallel road to ease waiting times for drivers was not granted.



St. Clair Twp. residents who have been trapped by trains for hours will have to wait a year or more for an escape, now that Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens was unsuccessful in securing a federal grant.

Wilkens was hoping to grab $350,000 of $570 million in Railroad Crossing Elimination grant money, to fund a way to sidestep trains that have held Cedar Grove subdivision residents hostage for hours on end.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration recently announced awards for 63 projects in 32 states. Fairfield culled $3 million to improve rail crossings at Symmes Road and North Gilmore Road.

Wilkens has always been highly successful in culling grants and even hired a consultant to help write the application, because federal railroad grants are not his usual bailiwick.

“What’s immediately next is we’re scheduling a debriefing to see how the scoring took place, what were the weaknesses, what were the strengths and what can we shore up if we reapply,” Wilkens said. “We’ll figure out where we’re going to go from here. I think we’re going to reapply that would be my gut.”

The grant was earmarked for environmental review and preliminary engineering costs not construction. Wilkens said it will be another year before more funding is released under this federal program.

A year and a half ago a group of Cedar Grove residents petitioned the commissioners 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 were blocked for between eight minutes to 2.5 hours, and those stoppages are still happening.

“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 previously.

The residents offered four options to open access, and Wilkens has estimated the cost for each that range from $60.3 million which requires building two bridges over Four Mile Creek to $2 million to build a new road parallel to the railroad tracks.

The parallel road is the option, but Wilkens said the price tag is now around $3 million.

St. Clair Twp. Trustee Dustin Gadd told the Journal-News they are trying to get as many people as possible to their meeting tonight to keep the “spotlight on this issue.” He said someone from U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance’s office, State Rep. Thomas Hall and Wilkens will be there.

“That railroad elimination grant it’s going to go on for four more years,” Gadd said. “I just want to keep the awareness out so nobody forgets our neighborhood and the East Palestine incident, and to keep us in the forefront and the spotlight on it to get this problem resolved.”

Commissioner Cindy Carpenter said she drives in that area often and she believes many others do also, “it isn’t just that subdivision it’s really crisscrossing areas of the county” so she’d be willing to discuss the commissioners footing the bill.

“The longer that we hold off on this hope that money falls from heaven the higher the price tag is going to get,” she said. “It’s something that’s important enough to do something about it now.”

Commissioner Don Dixon said he understands this is a tough situation, but the project is not in the budget and he believes it might have to involve an assessment on residents to help pay for the solution. The residents have been told an assessment could cost and estimated $218 annually over 20 years per $1 million.

“We can look at the budget next year, but $3 million bucks,” he said. “There’d have to be some kind of an assessment so they’d pay part of it or half of it, there has to be a way to do that. We can look at other ways to do it but the best way for everybody involved is getting a railroad grant.”

He said after Wilkens gets a handle on how far down they were in the ranking for the grant they can reconvene and decide how to proceed.

Commissioner T.C. Rogers said he needs to meet with Wilkens “I need to talk to him because we need to figure out if we’re going to do it, how we’re going to do it, the fastest way.”

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