EATON — Preble County Commissioners held an extended meeting, Wednesday, Oct. 26, at National Trail High School to discuss the contract signed with Norfolk Southern Railroad (NSR) regarding the permanent closures of crossings on Conley Road, Daily Road, and Oxford-Gettysburg Road in Jackson Township.
The meeting was open to the public, and was the second meeting of its kind held at National Trail.
Commissioner Adam Craft welcomed those in attendance — approximately 35 attendees — and gave a brief history on how the deal with NSR had come to pass.
“About a year, year and a half ago, the board of county commissioners was approached by Norfolk Southern, and we were basically told — not asked — we were told that the railroad would be taking some roadways in our county and extending a siding,” began Craft.
“Their stated purpose for the siding was to alleviate the blockages in Campbellstown. I know the citizens who have lived out there for years and years have had to deal with the effects of those intermittent blockages, sometimes for two or three days at a time.
“So, it put the board of county commissioners in somewhat of a precarious situation,” Craft continued. “As we began to move through this, we began to learn a lot about railroad law, and this thing called interstate commerce, and just the overwhelming power that the railroad has.”
Craft elaborated, the railroad has exerted its power not only over local government, by over the state, and even federal governments in many situations, including the one in Preble County.
“What the negotiations were, we were approached by Ohio Rail Development Commission, the guy came in and said ‘hey, if you deal with us, if you kind of make some negotiations and you return the railroad’s phone call, we will make sure you get some money and resources to help the impacted areas. If you elect not to negotiate, and not deal with the Ohio Rail Commission at this time, you could potentially get nothing.’ As a matter of fact, ‘you will get nothing,’ is what he told us in no uncertain terms,” concluded Craft.
After Craft gave his opening statements, the floor was opened to the public to raise concerns or present their questions.
Jackson Township resident Terri Hans asked Preble County Engineer Kyle Cross and the commissioners, if the county would be willing to repair the northern end of Toby Road first, as opposed to beginning the updates on the southern end. Hans expressed her concern that in its current condition, Toby Road is unsafe for the amount of traffic it will see due to the ongoing maintenance.
Cross addressed the issue, noting the northern end of Toby will be a significantly more difficult update than the southern end, and will therefore keep the road unusable for a longer amount of time, while also navigating around NSR workers and construction.
Another resident questioned whether his property taxes will be lowered now that his residential road will be a “dead-end road.” The resident remarked, the value for property on dead-end roads “simply isn’t there.”
No county officials had a definitive answer during the meeting.
Cross also answered the question of whether an overpass had been considered, saying it’s still on the table moving forward.
“We negotiated into the rail agreement with Norfolk Southern that we would never sunset the idea of maybe getting an overpass or grade-separation project completed on Oxford-Gettysburg Road. So, we still have the ability to revisit that and as soon as this contract goes into effect, we will get right to work getting that process taken care of. Some of these projects take some time, so it could be a while before that happens. But we are actively looking at some funding options for that,” answered Craft.
Cross pointedly expressed the county currently owns all of the required right-of-way for the intended updates, and will not seek to purchase or seize property from any landowners within Preble County.
The commissioners also provided a lengthy list of common questions and answers in addition to the open forum:
Q: What does the project involve?
A: The project involves the permanent closure of railroad grade crossings at Daily Road, Oxford-Gettysburg Road, and Conley Road in Jackson Township. Prior to the closure of Oxford-Gettysburg Road crossing, “hammerhead” style turnarounds will be constructed on both sides of the crossing and improvements will be made to Toby Road from U.S. 35 to Ohio 122.
Q: Why are the grade crossings being closed?
A: NSR is currently in the process of constructing an extension to a siding parallel to its mainline track south-east to Cambellstown. This siding is entirely within the railroad property; NSR is already in the process of constructing this siding. Currently, railroad operations in Preble County result in crossing blockages including but not limited to the crossings proposed to be permanently closed. Construction of the siding, which is not subject to our local or state approval, may result in multiple crossings being occupied for longer durations of time. This leads to a high degree of unpredictability on which crossings may be occupied by trains and for how long.
In general, federal regulations preempt state and local regulations on blocked crossings which limits the ability of law enforcement to ticket or fine the railroad for blocked crossings. The closure of crossings at Daily Road, Conley Road and Oxford-Gettysburg Road will decrease the likelihood that other crossings in the county will be blocked.
Additionally, if the board of commissioners closes these crossings, NSR will fund the improvements to area roadways that otherwise would not occur if the crossings were not closed. The Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) will provide additional funding as incentive for the closures.
Q: How many vehicles use the crossings?
A: The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) collects traffic information at railroad crossings across the state. Below are the average traffic volumes, last collected in 2010 by PUCO.
• Daily Road: 50 vehicles per day,
• Oxford-Gettysburg Road: 436 vehicles per day,
• Conley Road: 24 vehicles per day.
Q: How will this impact the traveling public?
A: Detours around the closed grade crossings will add some travel time depending on the crossing. Major traffic impacts are not anticipated based on current traffic volumes and detour routes.
• Daily Road: detour via Crawfordsville-Campbellstown Road, Florence-Campbellstown Road, and Paddock Road, up to 3.3 miles.
• Oxford-Gettysburg Road: detour via Toby Road and Washington-Jackson Road, up to 3.5miles.
• Conley Road: detour via Toby Road and Washington-Jackson Road, up to 2.2 miles.
Q: What is being done to address concern related to traffic impacts, school bus and snowplow routes, and emergency vehicle access?
A: The board of commissioners, along with county and township stakeholders (Preble County Engineer, National Trail Local Schools, Eaton Fire/EMS, Preble County Sheriff’s Office, and area property owners and members of the public) have been engaged in discussion with NSR since 2011 about the grade crossing closures. To accommodate additional traffic, improvements to Toby Road will be made from U.S. 35 to Ohio 122.
These improvements, identified by the Preble County Engineer’s office, include increased lane and shoulder width. To facilitate school bus and snowplow turnaround at Oxford-Gettysburg Road, hammerhead-style turnarounds will be constructed on both sides of the crossing. Additionally, Oxford-Gettysburg Road will remain open until the improvements to Toby Road are completed.
Q: Who is paying for the improvements?
A: NSR will be funding these improvements. Additionally, ORDC will provide an additional $300,000 for transportation safety improvements as incentive for closure of all three crossings. The board of commissioners will work with county stakeholders to determine how this additional funding is to be utilized.
Q: When will the crossings be closed?
A: The crossings at Daily Road and Conley Road will be closed immediately following the board of commissioner’s approval. Oxford-Gettysburg Road will be closed following the improvements to Toby Road and construction of turnarounds at Oxford-Gettysburg Road.
Q: Does this mean an overpass cannot be constructed at Oxford-Gettysburg Road or elsewhere in the area?
A: No, this project does not preclude an overpass being constructed in the future.