Residents voiced their concerns to Orange Township trustees this week about the potential closing of the Franklin Street railroad crossing in Lewis Center.
“I heard rumor that the board is considering closing the railroad crossing on Franklin Street,” Ken Schmid, a resident of Center Street in Lewis Center, said during Monday’s meeting. “If you try to get out on Lewis Center Road from Center Street, you’re taking your life into your own hands because traffic comes flying up over that hill by North Road.”
Matt Dietrich, executive director of the Ohio Rail Development Commission, was scheduled to discuss the review of plans for the Orange Road trail crossing during the meeting. However, residents took the opportunity to address the Franklin crossing.
“I challenge anybody to come and try to get out of the village at 7:15 a.m. and turn left,” said Jeri Dill, a Franklin Street resident. “I continue to submit that Franklin Street keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the decision.”
In June, Orange Township trustees were asked by the Ohio Rail Development Commission to close the Franklin Street crossing. In return for the closure, the commission offered the township help in developing planned trails and incentives totaling up to $237,000 in services and equipment.
The proposal was based on a 2016 study stating “a low vehicular count and a high train count at that location.”
“They came to us,” said Trustee Rob Quigley. He said the commission believed having two crossings was a safety concern.
“The big problem I have is the tracks themselves,” Schmid said. “Instead of using the money to build trails, fix the damn tracks.”
Schmid said with the current construction in the area the traffic has doubled or even tripled on Lewis Center Road. He told trustees that he has waited five minutes or more to get out onto Lewis Center Road.
“I counted that 62 cars went pass before someone let us out,” he said. “We can at least get out some other way.”
Trustee Debbie Taranto said the township wasn’t moving to close the Franklin Street crossing, but the township needs to move forward with the Orange Road trail.
“We’re crossing Orange Road regardless,” Taranto said. “Part of the process, if we move forward, we have to have community discussions, bring it to you. We absolutely get your feedback before any movement is taken.”
Dietrich confirmed Taranto’s comment that there needs to be three public meetings with the community before anything happens.
“It’s a community decision,” he said. “It has to go before the public. We don’t do anything unless we come to an agreement with (the township).”
Dietrich also said that if the railroad wanted to fight to have the crossing closed, there is a legal procedure that allows a railroad to petition for a closure.
According to Township Administrator Lee Bodnar, nobody is discussing the closure.
Roads and Park Director Beth Hugh said the township can’t fix the roads because it’s in the railroad’s right-of-way. Repairs would need to be made the railroad.
The Franklin Street crossing only has a warning sign on each side of the road with no automated crossing signals or gates.
D. Anthony Botkin may be reached at 740-413-0902 or on Twitter @dabotkin.