by Maggie Smith
The N.C. Department of Transportation is accepting public comments on a study that the agency hopes will make several Durham railroad crossings safer.
In the past 10 years, four people have died in accidents involving trains at railroad crossings in Durham County, according to the Federal Railroad Association.
The Durham Traffic Separation Study is an analysis of 18 public railroad crossings between Neal Road and Cornwallis Road. The N.C. DOT will issue its recommendations next year.
According to the N.C. DOT, improvements could include upgrading or installing new signals or gates, building an overpass or underpass (known as grade-separated crossings), or closing a crossing altogether.
"The best solution is to remove the possibility of a car coming in contact with a train." says Jahmal Pullen, the Engineering Services Manager of the N.C. DOT Rail Division. This is generally done, he says, by creating a grade-separated crossing or closing the crossing.
However, overpasses and underpasses are expensive and require a lot of land to build, Pullen says. "It's hard to find sources of funding," he says, adding money to pay for the changes has not been determined.
But some Durham residents have expressed concern over the possibility of closing some crossings. Eric Heidt has lived in the Old West Durham neighborhood for two years. He says that many of his neighbors use the nearby crossings at Anderson Street and Swift Avenue to access other parts of the city, including Duke Hospital and the Durham Freeway.
"In an era when cities are trying to create better connections, and become more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, to close either of these two rail crossings would be a setback to good urban design," Heidt says. Those crossings, he continues, "provide essential connectivity to other parts of the city."
Last week, N.C. DOT held three public workshops in Durham for citizens to comment on and ask questions about the safety improvements and how they will affect the nearby communities. There was no formal presentation.
At the first meeting, held Nov. 28, officials discussed the safety of pedestrians and downtown crossings, particularly those at Mangum Street and Corcoran Street where they intersect with Ramseur Street.
Natalie Spring, a resident of the Cleveland-Holloway neighborhood for more than nine years, attended the meeting. She says she uses those crossings frequently to walk to the Durham Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park. "I cross there with my daughter in her stroller," she says. "There's no visibility issues."
N.C. DOT has not proposed any action on any of the crossings, Pullen says. Citizens can submit comments until Jan. 6, 2012.
Pullen says N.C. DOT will have recommendations about downtown pedestrian traffic sometime in January. Recommendations for the whole corridor will take months of preparation after the public comments period has closed, and will be ready sometime at the end of 2012, according to Pullen.
To submit a comment or request more information about the Traffic Separation Study, contact Sandra Stepney of the N.C. DOT Rail Division: email@example.com or (919) 715-0296.