Railroad, city raring to go on Chavasse

Have you ever sat at the railroad crossing at Chavasse Avenue with the crossing arms down but the train was down the track not moving, traffic was backed up in every direction, and frustrations were mounting? And does it seem that it happens at lunch, when school lets out and at 5 when everyone is getting off work?

Well, help is at hand if Nelson High, regional coordinator of public affairs and safety for CSX Transportation, has anything to say about it. His only question Monday was why the problem had not been brought to his attention long ago.

High called his Apex office to get the ball rolling on the repairs to the signals before he got to a 3 p.m. meeting with Mayor Clem Seifert to discuss the Chavasse crossing. Also attending the meeting were Eric Williams, the city manager; Mark Warren, the assistant city manager; Frank Fraizer, the city engineer; Sandra Wilkerson, the assistant to the mayor; Elissa Yount, the City Council member who lives a few yards from the crossing; Steve Winstead of the state Department of Transportation; and state Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Oxford.

The bone-rattling crossings at Chavasse Avenue and J.P. Taylor Road were brought to the attention of the railroad’s district headquarters by complaints from private citizens, and High is hopeful that solutions will soon be available.

He joked that there was no good news in the fact that the crossing seems most often to be blocked at lunch, right at school closing and at supper time. The effect of afternoon congestion on school buses weighed into his concern.

High saw the problem in two parts: the outdated signals that allow all the crossing arms in town to be down when the Chavasse signal is crossed; and the rotted out railroad ties at the crossing. He promised that when he left the meeting, he was going to inspect the crossing himself. He pledged to work with the city and the Department of Transportation in coordinating the effort of upgrading the road.

The news was not as positive from Stephen Winstead, a district engineer with the state Department of Transportation; he attended the meeting for fact finding.

Seifert said the city upgraded Dorsey Avenue to three lanes in anticipation that the intersections would be aligned with Chavasse. The proposal was made to upgrade the part of Dorsey from Raleigh Road to William Street with curb and gutter, sidewalks, and three lanes to match the portion that runs Dabney Drive. But the source of the funds for the Dorsey project, the governor’s Moving Ahead money, dried up.

“The area is horrible with people having to walk in the ditch,” the mayor said. He emphasized that he had everyone at the table so that all could work together to do the signals, crossing ties, sidewalk, curbs and street right.

“When can you fix the road?” asked Crawford, one of the chairmen of the House Appropriations Committee.

“I don’t have the money,” Winstead said.

Crawford said the money is available, and he will take care of Raleigh’s end, but Winstead posed more and more problems, including stormwater drainage, wheelchair accessibility across the railroad, effects on historical properties, pedestrian crossings at the railroad, purchase of the right of way, and high-speed rail.

Yount asked what consideration is given to those problems now. The answer was that when changes are made, “we have to put in the most current standards.”

When asked what would be the first step in launching the project if he received a check for the full cost tomorrow, Winstead said: “I need to know the source of the money.”

Until funding is earmarked for a project, the Department of Transportation won’t begin.

The meeting brought agreement on several points, however. The cost of the project is in the neighborhood of $240,000. The grade at the railroad cannot be altered. The Cadillac of all crossings would be cement. The engineering must come first, and Henderson needs to pin down the scope of the project.

Possibilities abound. Could the city get the money from the state and do the work? Could the city do the engineering and the state the work? Could the city do the work within its budget even though it is a state road?

There are a couple of certainties as well: The process has begun to get the project on the drawing board, and decision makers are paying attention.

Maybe one day soon mothers with strollers will be able walk to the grocery without jumping a ditch, and cars will not lose their hubcaps as they cross the tracks at Chavasse.