Commissioners consider cost for crossing arms

Photo provided
Police say Shelly Schwenk, 64, Velpen was northbound on County Road 600W on Sept. 5 when she collided with a Norfolk Southern train.


Adding arms to the railroad intersection at County Road 600 West will cost $405,000.

Of that, the Indiana Department of Transportation is requesting the county contribute $40,500.

“I would not have expected that cost to be so high,” County Supervisor Steve Berg told the Dubois County Commissioners Monday.

The commissioners also thought the cost was high. But “it’s a small price to pay for saving a life,” Commissioner Nick Hostetter said, “which this would potentially do.”

The effort to get the crossing arms started after the county heard from Velpen resident Sam Schwenk about the matter. Schwenk’s wife, Shelly, was injured Sept. 5, when her northbound vehicle collided with a train at the crossing. The accident totaled her car. She did not see the lights because the nearby cornfield created a blind spot, and the lights were fuzzy and not easily visible in the daylight sun.

After that, the commissioners heard from other drivers about near misses at the crossing and not being able to see the flashing lights at certain times of the day because of the sun.

The county sent letters and information about the need for crossing arms to INDOT, which is responsible for protection at railroad crossings. Berg told the commissioners in January that INDOT agreed to install arms, but the agency did not say when or give a definitive cost.

At Monday’s meeting, Berg said all the mechanisms are already in place at the intersection except for the machine that drops the arms and the arms themselves. So he did not understand why the installation would cost so much.

“I felt strongly that we needed to sit down and talk about this,” Berg said. “But it didn’t happen before they sent this.”

A site visit is still in the works, said Jason Tiller, spokesman for INDOT’s Vincennes District. INDOT’s central office handles the details for crossing upgrades, he said.

“There is a fund for this by which INDOT upgrades crossings based on need,” Tiller said in an email. “While this location wasn’t necessarily an urgent need based on the traffic data, we did reach out to Dubois County on Oct. 2 to let them know that we would be happy to move this crossing up the list if they would agree to pay the matching portion of the project cost, which is about $40,000.”

INDOT is now waiting for the county to agree to the match request, Tiller said. He confirmed that project has been put on INDOT’s crossings upgrades list.

“It’s currently in our legal section, as all projects must be reviewed by [the] legal [department], and will be added to our STIP (state transportation improvement program) documents,” Tiller said. Once that is done, it will be sent to a preliminary engineer, then go out for construction bids.

“Normally, the process takes a couple of years,” Tiller said. “But we’re hoping to get this project to letting sometime this year, if possible.“

If the county puts in the contribution, the work could be done in fiscal year 2020, which starts in July, Berg told the commissioners. “I’m sure if we contribute, it would bump [the project] up in the line,” he said. “If we don’t, it could move the project back.”

They asked if there was a breakdown of the cost. Berg said he would ask INDOT for that. “There may be places we can help or work that we could do, like hauling rock,” Commissioner Elmer Brames said.

Since money for the project can’t be appropriated until next month, the commissioners said they will discuss the matter at their next meeting, which is set for May 6.

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