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Editorial: Progress on overpass sign of solution to traffic woes

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Columbus motorists and city leaders have understood for months the impact on vehicle traffic that results from trains running through the city. Thankfully, a sense of urgency seems to be shared by city, railroad and state transportation officials in addressing traffic congestion.

Consideration of an overpass appears to be on a fast track to address continued traffic backups caused by trains crossing the busy intersection of state roads 46 and 11.

That’s a great first step toward a long-term solution and presents an opportunity to also discuss short-term solutions and other traffic issues related to the west side of the city.

Trains come through the intersection multiple times per day, blocking motorists on the west side from the rest of the Columbus. The worst problem is when trains pass through at peak traffic times during the morning and afternoon rush hours and lunchtime. Backups can stretch two miles and take up to an hour to clear.

The delays present safety issues, too.

When police are called to the intersection to clear traffic, fewer officers are available to respond to other emergencies. Ambulances, fire trucks and police cannot take the most direct route through the city to respond for calls for help.

Malfunctioning crossing arms that caused more than a half-dozen traffic backups exacerbated the problem. But the situation provided an opportunity for Mayor Kristen Brown to talk with Indiana Department of Transportation and Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co. officials to discuss installing an overpass at the intersection.

The discussions were beneficial because INDOT and railroad officials support the idea at this early stage. And INDOT is starting to develop a conceptual design and rough estimates for an overpass. The fact that the parties are looking at mid-2018 to possibly begin construction demonstrates a degree of expediency. INDOT projects are notorious for moving slowly because of the layers of planning, funding and approval involved.

A sense of urgency is needed because the railroad wants to move more trains — faster and heavier ones — through the intersection. While that won’t happen until next year at the earliest, an overpass plan needs to move ahead as quickly as possible.

In the meantime, other traffic issues related to the growing west side need to be discussed.

Reducing speeds might be necessary. So might lane adjustments and changes in street-signal timings at the intersection to reduce congestion.

Alleviating traffic problems at the intersection won’t happen overnight, but recent progress on a possible overpass is an encouraging step which signals that key stakeholders are on the right track.

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