Rail crossing debate continues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2005

AHOSKIE – The debate continues over what to do with the Hayes Street railroad crossing.

At last week’s meeting of the Ahoskie Town Council, municipal leaders decided to table the issue for one month in order to gain additional information concerning the options available to the town.

During previous meetings with North Carolina-Virginia Railroad Company (NCVRC) officials, Ahoskie’s leaders learned that NCVRC was leaning towards an option to have the town close the Hayes Street crossing. Ahoskie officials said that was not an option.

However, in a May 19 letter to Ahoskie Town Manager Tony Hammond from Eric Haugaard of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, there was mention of possibly closing the Hayes Street rail crossing.

Closing the crossing is not the only option.

State DOT officials – basing their findings on existing train and vehicle volumes, train speed, accident history and existing protection – said the Hayes Street crossing has qualified for federal funds to establish a rail crossing with warning devices.

Under the program, the federal government will pay 90 percent of the installation costs – estimated at $135,000. That leaves Ahoskie to pick-up the remaining 10 percent (roughly $13,500).

However, there’s a catch.

Under North Carolina General Statutes, Ahoskie would be required to pay one-half ($1,620) of the annual maintenance on the new crossing.

Haugaard’s letter spelled out Ahoskie’s three options, (1) install a warning device at the crossing; (2) permanently close the crossing; or (3) decline either option.

The state’s letter made it clear that if the town chooses to decline either option, they may be subject to additional liability if another accident occurs at the Hayes Street crossing.

Larry Overton, attorney to the Ahoskie Town Council, was asked to address that aforementioned issue, to which he responded, &uot;If you choose to do nothing to the Hayes Street crossing, it does open you up to possible liability.&uot;

Hammond said he believed the DOT letter surfaced due to a pair of train-vehicle accidents at the crossing – one this year and one in 2004.

&uot;We can’t afford this crossing device and we can’t afford to close the Hayes Street crossing,&uot; Town Councilman Ronald Gatling said.

The Council then approved to table the issue for one month. They are required to respond to Haugaard’s letter within 60 days.