County agrees to contribution for crossing arms

The effort to get the crossing arms on County Road 600 West started after the county heard from Velpen resident Sam Schwenk about the matter. Schwenk’s wife, Shelly, was injured Sept. 5, 2018, 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.

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

County officials discussed at length on Monday the $40,500 Dubois County is being asked to contribute for railroad crossing arms to be installed at the tracks that cross County Road 600 West near Duff.

Steve Berg, county highway supervisor, explained to both the Dubois County Commissioners and Dubois County Council that the financial commitment the Indiana Department of Transportation is requesting would put the project higher up on INDOT’s project list.

“If we pay, we’re not guaranteed when it will be done,” said a dissatisfied Chad Blessinger, commissioners president. “If we don’t, we’re not guaranteed that it will be done.”

Berg believes the cost will be less than estimated because the equipment needed for the installation — poles, lights, and the signal switch — is already at the crossing site. Once the money is appropriated and the commitment letter signed, an assessment will be conducted at the crossing to determine a better cost estimate, he said.

Berg talked to Jason Holder of INDOT about the matter and pointed out to Holder that in the past, the state agency put crossing arms at the railroad tracks at County Roads 650 West and 800 West without requesting a contribution from the county. Berg noted that those two roads have much less traffic on them than County Road 600 West.

Holder told Berg that the funding program was discontinued because federal funds were decreasing. There is still a list of projects to do, but a local contribution would push a project to getting done faster, Berg said.

“It is in line to get done,” Berg said. “But if we don’t contribute, he couldn’t say how soon it would get done.”

With the contribution, the project would likely be done in the next year, Berg was told.

Also, Berg said, Holder explained that the railroad company does not pay for installing equipment; it pays for maintaining it.

County Engineer Brent Wendholt said he had his interns monitor the crossing on May 14 from 7:45 to 11:15 a.m. During that time, 250 vehicles drove through. A train also came through, and the railroad lights there flashed 35 seconds prior to the train getting to the crossing.

“There was a car there,” he said, “and that person rushed through before the train came through.”

The commissioners approved signing the commitment letter by a vote of 2 to 1. While Commissioner Elmer Brames agrees that the work needs to be done, he did not agree with the vagueness of the information the county has gotten so far.

“I want to see a better contract, he said. “I want to know what I’m getting. Right now, we’re putting $40,000 on the table and then we’ll see what value we will get.”

Most of the county council consented to advertising an appropriation for the cost. Council members Doug Uebelhor and Craig Greulich did not agree. Council member Becky Beckman was not at the meeting due to illness.

Uebelhor said he wants to improve public safety, but said the railroad company should pay the cost to install the arms. “It feels like the state is bullying us,” he said.

Greulich said the county should look at other safety measures first before making the investment. He mentioned getting the railroad company to change out the crossing lights’ bulbs to a brighter bulb, or having county crews intall a stop sign or rumble strips on either side of the crossing to make people take notice when they approach the crossing.

“I’m an advocate of public safety,” he said. “But we have other options here that we can try. We need to find other cost effective alternatives to get drivers’ attention.”

But the majority of the county officials consented to the payment. Doing so means that the project will likely be done in the next fiscal year, Berg said, though an actual timeline is not set.

The council will consider making the appropriation at its next regular meeting, which is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Monday, June 24, at the Dubois County Courthouse Annex, 602 Main St., Jasper.




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