Approximately three months after bringing a slate of infrastructural issues to the White City Council’s attention, municipal water department representative Billy Baker said the local government had narrowed its long-term options on Richards Road to two likely outcomes.
“One-way it, whichever way, but one-way it,” he said at Monday evening’s public meeting, “or close it.”
Amid fears of a “catastrophic event” at the CSX railroad crossing, the White City Council voted unanimously to close a portion of Richards Road in early April.
Making the needed drainage repairs at the crossing and bringing the roadway up to Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) standards — meaning, essentially, widening the road from two 9-foot lanes to two 12-foot lanes — would prove too expensive, Baker said. A report commissioned by the City and authored by Marietta-based Rindt-McDuff Associates, Inc. tabbed the total cost of those corrective actions — plus other upgrades to improve visibility and slope stability — at almost $400,000.
Baker said a proposal to single-lane Richards Road, with traffic control devices tied into the railroad, would also be costly. “That is very expensive and our engineer did not recommend that,” he said. “You’re going to have to have an electronic technician, basically, available to keep that equipment up.”
He estimated the cost of the new electronic equipment, in that scenario, at $50,000-$60,000.
“It’s a good idea if it’s a straight road, but this road is a different ballgame,” Baker said.
As for addressing the drainage issues, Baker said the City could possibly install new pipes under Richards Road for about $42,000. Installing new guardrails along the road would be about $52,000, while designs for a possible one-way road were estimated at $40,000.
“Then there’s the cost of having a railroad representative on the job site while we’re working,” Baker said. “So we’re still talking $200,000-$250,000.”
A railroad representative, however, was present for Monday night’s council meeting.
“We understand your safety concerns, we’ve been in the area and assessed our situation with it,” said CSX Public Project Manager Todd Allman. “We’ve met with GDOT and had several discussions with them, and ya’ll have a tough decision to make.”
If the council voted to permanently close the portion of Richards Road near the railway, Allman said CSX would give the City $11,000 — to use at the local government’s discretion — and remove all the existing signal equipment and barricades at the crossing.
“We’d remove the asphalt back to the right of way, to get to the right of way, and also GDOT would contribute $7,500,” he added.
He noted that if that road was closed, traffic would naturally increase along Rocky Street. In exchange for closing the Richards Road crossing, Allman said CSX would upgrade the railroad crossing at Rocky Street with new flashing gates and concrete surfacing. “The third track,” he said, “we will remove those completely so you won’t have to worry about anymore potholes or anything there.”
In total, he said CSX and GDOT are willing to make abut $420,000 in Rocky Street railroad crossing upgrades at their own expense. Furthermore, Allman said GDOT was looking at upgrading the crossing at Shinall Road as well, possibly with new lights and flashing gates.
Councilman Charles Buttrum asked Allman if CSX and GDOT were willing to invest almost half a million dollars into upgrades at Rocky Street, why they couldn’t make the same investment in upgrading the crossing at Richards Road.
“That would be an update to the crossing signal warning system,” Allman responded. “To put gates on this one, we would have to do a whole, brand new crossing signal system on it. There’s really nothing that we can contribute at that, because you’ve already got flashers, lights and gates at that crossing space.”
Allman said the proposed Rocky Street upgrades would require a partial closing “for a day or two” so resurfacing can be performed. From design to ordering materials to actual construction, he estimated the timeline for the potential project to be about six months.
“The railroad doesn’t pay for the signals themselves, it’s usually paid upfront by GDOT,” Allman said. “The signals to the railroad is a liability — we’ve got to maintain them and if something were to happen to them, it malfunctioned whatever way, we’re looking at a major lawsuit against the railroad for the flashers not working properly.”
Under Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regulations, Allman said CSX doesn’t have to do too much to comply with national safety standards.
“If you just stick a stop sign up there,” he said, “[that] meets the FRA requirements, and that’s all the railroad’s worried about.”
At that point, a local resident asked why the crossing at Dysart Road was devoid of such signage. In response, Allman said that was a safety issue that should be discussed amongst city officials.
From Allman’s perspective, the major issue is poor visibility on both sides of Richards Road.
“Our feelings on it is that the surface on it is good, it’s just the approaches coming up to it,” he said. “The railroad pertains to the railroad crossing itself — we only have to maintain two [feet] outside of the tops, and that’s it for the roadway. The rest of it is up to the City, the State and the local community.”
When asked by Buttrum how much right of way CSX had at Richards Road, Allman said he didn’t have an exact estimate. “We have it on our properties maps, which looks like about 25-30 feet, right there at that crossing," he said.
Councilman Dennis Huskins asked what CSX could do to address the drainage problems along the crossing.
“Just the basic maintenance on what you’ve got, that little area up top,” Allman said. “I looked at the engineering report, and he didn’t go into quite enough detail on that. To do that warning system with the traffic lights … the equipment that’s there right now is about 35-40 years old. It does not meet the standards, as set today, to tie into the traffic lights.”
Continuing, Allman said initial price estimates for the project didn’t take the costs of new motion-sensing equipment into consideration. A new warning system unit, he said, would cost the City about $11,000, with wiring and other installation expenses likely exceeding $89,000.
The council voted unanimously to authorize a new survey of the Richards Road area, but that was the extent of the progress made on the matter at Monday’s meeting.
“We need to do the field survey as a starter to see where we’re at,” Baker said. “It’s all got to be put together as a total project because we’ve got to deal with FEMA, the railroad, DOT’s got to get involved in it, too. We need to decide which way we want to go and design that accordingly, and say ‘OK, here’s the drawing, and here’s what you guys want.’”
Nor did Baker say he thought the City is altogether finished with CSX at the bargaining table.
“I was hoping we would get more out of the railroad, I just think we need to negotiate some more,” he said. “If they will pay for replacing those drainage pipes, that would go a long way. If I’m correct … one of those pipes is on the railroad right of way and one is not.”
In the meantime, Baker said the City will continue to pursue possible funding streams for the project.
“The mayor and I are going to meet with Bartow County’s road planner one day next week and look at some long-range plans he made back in 2015,” he said, “and see if there was any money put in for the Richards Road upgrades.”