County, Orange Twp. object to crossing closer

By D. Anthony Botkin - [email protected]

Norfolk Southern Railway Company and CSX Transportation Inc. have filed a joint petition with the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to close the Franklin Street railroad crossing in Orange Township. The Delaware County Board of Commissioners and the Orange Township Board of Trustees approved resolutions to file objections to the closing.

The deadline to file comments in response to the petition is April 24.

In its regularly scheduled session Monday, the county commissioners approved a resolution authorizing staff attorney, Aric Hochstettler, to enter an appearance and file an objection to the closing.

The request to file the objection came from the Delaware County Engineer’s Office.

“We are asking to interject and basically asking to state that they not do that for the obvious reason of having an EMS (emergency medical services) station so close to the crossing,” said Chief Deputy County Engineer Rob Riley. “Frequently, the crossing at Lewis Center Road is closed for maintenance by one railroad or the other … lasting on average about two weeks. During that time, it leaves the Franklin Street crossing as the only option for EMS as well as those area residents that live in the village (to cross the tracks).”

Riley said the other options around the maintenance of the railroad tracks would be Orange Road, which is very busy during the day, or Shanahan Road, which has a lot of bus traffic. He said the county engineer’s office is asking PUCO to delay the closing until the county can complete some of the other road projects — the Home Road extension, the Orange Road tunnel under the railroad tracks, and the Cheshire Road bridge over the tracks.

“We’re looking at six to seven years out before we feel comfortable that all the nearby crossing improvements are done that would allow the closing to move forward,” he said.

Both Commissioner Barb Lewis and Commissioner Jeff Benton approved the resolution. Commissioner Gary Merrell was absent from Monday’s session.

In an emergency meeting Tuesday morning, Orange Township Trustees voted 2-1 to approve a resolution to also file an objection with the PUCO. Trustees Lisa Knapp and Deb Taranto voted yes, while Trustee Ryan Rivers voted no.

Knapp said the residents in the area are landlocked and that EMS runs will be forced to the north or south when the crossings are unavailable, “which will cause a significant delay in emergency response time.”

“We’re very concerned about the safety and having the crossing closed prior to the railroad overpasses,” she said.

Rivers said he agreed that the crossing should not be closed right now and asked that the same language the county used to be put into the township documents.

“The board is not opposed to the proposed closing once a safe alternative is available,” he said.

Rivers read from a resolution when the matter had been discussed previously.

“What I recommend, the board of trustees understands that inevitable changes are coming to the Franklin Street railroad crossing. …due to the high activity in the area pushing a deadline at this time would be a mistake. The board understands there are incentives being proposed and seeks to make sure all funds are properly used toward a comprehensive agreement for all of our crossings that best serve our community,” he said. “There was a proposal for incentives close to $400,000. I’m disappointed the way this was handled.”

Rivers said the township missed out on a great opportunity, because the rail crossing will be closed.

The rail commission approached the township in June 2017, offering incentives for expediting the construction of the proposed new trail crossings on Orange Road and Lewis Center Road if the township would support the closing.

The offer from the railroads in October to close the crossing was $30,000 for any purpose or up to $5,000 for barricading, then offered $350,000 to the township for the undercuts project or $350,000 toward the upgrade of warning devices at Lewis Center and a quiet zone.

Knapp asked Rivers what his vote was at that time.

“You voted yes,” she said. “All three of us were in agreement that we were going to send a letter requesting the railroad pay to install lights and a crossing gate there, which you still voted yes to send the letter.”

Rivers said he disagreed with the handling of the situation back then and still disagrees with it now.

Knapp said the railroads weren’t going to give the township something for free.

“It would be something we would have shared cost,” she said. “It was a matching program, where they would provide the money but we would have to come up with a million dollars or $800,000 for a quiet crossing. That’s still not off the table. We could still continue to negotiate.”

Knapp added it is expensive for PUCO to go through this process. She said it would be in their best interest to reach a negotiation if possible.

“I was trying to protect our crossing and making sure we had safety access (for EMS),” she said. “Plus, the residents didn’t want it to be closed.”

By D. Anthony Botkin

[email protected]

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.

Contact D. Anthony Botkin at 740-413-0902. Follow him on Twitter @dabotkin.