Solution found for railroad crossing problem
by MARK LEDBETTER
The railroad switching station blocking traffic will be relocated two miles west of Sylacauga.
SYLACAUGA — Residents and commuters frustrated by a major traffic problem are going to get relief.

“This will have the biggest impact we’ve had in years in Sylacauga and the surrounding area,” Mayor Sam Wright said.

According to a press release, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that “12 cities and states will share $16.9 million to relocate, replace and improve segments of railroad track under the Federal Railroad Administration’s Rail Line Relocation and improvement competitive grant program.”

Sylacauga will receive $1,595,944 to relocate an interchange that has long been a traffic headache for residents.

B.B. Comer Memorial Library employee Nelda Vogel said the blockage makes it difficult for students trying to get to school and employees trying to get to work on time.

Marilyn Willis, also a library employee, said she feels the same frustration Sylacauga residents have suffered for years. Willis lives in Alpine but must cross the railroad crossing to get to work. One morning she said that after waiting 20 minutes, she called the library and said, “I’m on the other side of the tracks.”

Traffic can be so bad that library employee Ella Collier said she has to drive in the back way. That means she has to travel the wrong way on a one-way street.

Police Chief Chris Carden said when the train stops it creates a traffic headache for B.B. Comer and Sylacauga high schools, which are separated by the track.

Carden said it becomes a major problem in deploying personnel. When officers are deployed to the school crossings and patrolmen are needed to direct traffic backed up along side streets, there are not enough officers to direct the extra traffic.

Carden said from 8th to 6th and Main to Avondale is grid-locked. “The problem is,” he said, “people get mad at the city and not the railroad.”

“We have for many, many years suffered waiting on trying to fix this problem in the middle of Sylacauga. The problem gets worse, not better,” Wright said.

Sylacauga Ambulance Service director James Trott said blocked railroad crossings have “been a pain all the time.”

“We will try to go all over town but can’t find no way so we just contact dispatch and tell them, ‘We’re waiting on a train,’” Trott said.

The relocation project is the result of several government agencies and local industries working together to get the relocation project approved.

Wright said agencies involved include East Alabama Regional Planning and Development Commission, the Sylacauga Industrial Development Board, as well as Norfolk Southern and RailAmerica rail services. Larry Nordquist of RailAmerica has been especially helpful, Wright said.

Industries involved in the relocation effort include Imerys, Omya, Heritage Plastics and IKO. Wright said two things helped in recruiting IKO to build their plant in Sylacauga, the quarry and the rail system.

According to the press release, the interchange will be relocated 2 miles west of downtown and will alleviate traffic delays and congestion caused by blocked grade crossings at the town’s primary North-South thoroughfare and three other roadways. The construction of two sidings will also increase freight capacity.

“In my way of thinking, this is the best piece of news and I am so proud to announce it,” Wright said.

Contact Mark Ledbetter at mledbetter@dailyhome.com.

© 2012