07/09/14 — Mount Olive won't change railroad crossings

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Mount Olive won't change railroad crossings

By Steve Herring
Published in News on July 9, 2014 1:46 PM

MOUNT OLIVE -- For the second time in recent memory, Mount Olive town commissioners Monday night turned down an offer from the state Department of Transportation to make improvements at the Country Road railroad crossing in the southern end of town at the expense of closing the Hillsboro Street crossing.

Instead, the commissioners made a counter offer -- the town will pay its share to install signals and crossing arms at the Hillsboro Street crossing, if the state will handle the one at County Road.

The Hillsboro crossing project would cost the town about $20,000 upfront and $2,000 annually after that for its portion of the maintenance.

However, commissioners and Mayor Ray McDonald Sr. said it would be worth the cost simply because the Hillsboro crossing serves more as a pedestrian crossing than one for vehicles.

If the board is not willing to pay the price, then all its members should resign, McDonald said.

Also, members said they were concerned about how the closure would affect emergency traffic.

The board didn't take a formal vote, but its consensus to pursue that option drew a favorable response from people in the audience who live in that area of town.

The next step will be to schedule a public meeting on the crossing projects.

Dan Havener of the DOT Rail Safety Division told commissioners the two crossings were under consideration because each had been the scene of two accidents over the past several years.

All of the accidents involved property damages and injuries, he said.

The Hillsboro Street crossing scored very high in the rankings for needed improvements, he said.

In exchange for closing the Hillsboro Street crossing, the DOT was prepared to foot the entire bill for new signals and crossing arms at County Road, he said.

McDonald and board members argued that the real reason behind the offer was the railroad company's desire to limit its liability.

Havener said the projects were state ones driven solely by safety concerns and not the railroad.

The board remained unconvinced saying that the railroad would close every crossing in town if it could.

They asked if a walkway could be provided for foot traffic if the town agreed to the closure.

Havener said he did not think that the railroad would agree to that. He reminded the board that people who walk across the tracks are actually trespassing on railroad property.

The company has had people charged and tried on trespassing, he said. The concern is that people walking on the tracks could be injured, he said.

Commissioners told Havener that Hillsboro has heavy foot traffic because of nearby churches, a funeral home, the Boys and Girls Club and the Carver Cultural Center.

People would not walk all the way south to County Road or north to Pollock Street to cross the tracks at a crossing when they can look across the tracks at Hillsboro and see those places, commissioners said.

In other business, commissioners adopted a resolution calling for improvements to N.C. 55 from North Breazeale Avenue west to Country Club.

Those improvements would include some additional four-laning of N.C. 55 from Walmart to Country Club Road.

The board also adopted resolutions to condemn and demolish empty and dilapidated houses at 121 E. Hillsboro St., 617 S. Breazeale Ave. and 406 S. Church St.