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Editorial: Railroad fix potential nightmare for motorists

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IF motorists coming into or going out of Columbus on State Road 46 thought recent railroad-created traffic jams at a crossing on the western entrance to the city were headache-inducing, they should consider the migraines that will follow should planned improvements in the area go forward.

The federal Surface Transportation Board has given local motorists a respite from concerns about the latter situation by delaying until later this year a decision on proposed improvements to a rail line that crosses Jonathan Moore Pike.

The improvements are long term in nature and involve repairs to 106.5 miles of north-south track in Indiana, according to officials with the Louisville & Indiana and CSX Transportation Inc. railroads. The estimated cost of the construction project is in the $70 million to $90 million range. Officials estimate the overall project could take seven years to complete.

Of critical importance to the project is the replacement of an old bridge across the Flat Rock River near Noblitt Park. Local officials have voiced concerns to the Surface Transportation Board, noting that the improvements might benefit the railroads but could create nightmare scenarios for local motorists and even be dangerous to public safety.

The railroads contend that the improvements will allow trains to move faster on the tracks and carry heavier loads. The pickup in the time element will also allow the company to move more trains on its system once the repairs are complete.

Columbus motorists got a taste of what the future could hold in recent rush hour traffic jams at the State Road 46 crossing, the result of the time it took trains to travel at reduced speeds over the aging bridge at the Flat Rock River. That situation was dramatically eased when railroad officials changed the time the long trains passed through the area from about 8:15 a.m. to mid-afternoon, when motor traffic had been significantly reduced.

Adding to the length of the trains and increasing the number going through the city on a daily basis will make things difficult for western motorists who have few viable options for getting into or out of the downtown area.

As Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization noted in a letter to the federal Surface Transportation Board, “This is the main corridor in our city, and there are currently no reasonable alternatives to this corridor when traveling east-west.”

The only acceptable improvement would be a highway overpass, but on whose dime and over how much time?

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