Motorists, be aware.
The Columbia Street railroad crossing is expected to close to vehicle traffic permanently within days.
Our city engineer (Reggie Chaney) just stopped in and said that it would officially be closed on Monday,” said Somerset Mayor Eddie Girdler on Friday afternoon.
City officials have planned on closing the popular shortcut that connects Columbia Street to the heavily-traveled U.S. 27 strip for several months. Somerset City Council in December voted 11-1, with Councilor Jim Rutherford the vote of dissent, to close the railroad crossing by February 15.
It looks like that tentative goal wasn’t missed by much.
The crossing will remain open to pedestrian traffic due to the large number of area residents who make the trip daily on foot to the U.S. 27 strip.
City officials were approached by officials with Norfolk Southern Railroad and the Kentucky Department of Transportation in the fall about the possible dangers of the West Columbia crossing. Those officials said the sheer number of tractor trailer trucks that become hung up on the crossing — due to the steep grade of the crossing — poses a serious safety issue. A collision between a train and a large truck could lead to a derailment.
The crossing is considered one of the most dangerous on Norfolk Southern’s 20,000-mile railway system.
Norfolk Southern officials have said as many as 50 to 60 trains travel through the West Columbia crossing daily.
Girdler has said a derailment could lead to an evacuation of businesses located along U.S. 27 — and even Lake Cumberland Regional Hospital.
Councilor Jerry Wheeldon, who has constituents in the Columbia Street area, has asked that the city look into making other access streets more safe for motorists now that the railroad crossing is closing.
“Everybody I’ve talked to over there, they’re concerned about the life saving deal but they’re also ... (asking) ‘how do we get out of here?’” Wheeldon said during the December meeting.
Wheeldon said residents in the West Columbia area try to avoid accessing U.S. 27 and Ky. 80 by way of Ogden Street. Park Avenue and Beck Street, both connectors located between West Columbia and Ogden, can be difficult to pull out from, especially amid heavy traffic. Wheeldon said the steep incline of Park Avenue is especially dangerous.
“Most of them, that’s the reason they go across the railroad because it (the Park Avenue-Ogden intersection) is so unsafe,” Wheeldon said. “... You won’t find a more dangerous place because you have to pull up into the street 20 feet before you can see anything.”
Girdler on Friday said city engineers are studying Park Avenue and Beck street, and he agreed the visibility is a serious issue there.
“It’s a huge visibility problem,” Girdler said.