Railroad crossing repairs that have left Franklin drivers frustrated and confused are moving north, with work underway in Whiteland and set to begin soon in Greenwood.
That is leading to concerns about how residents and first responders will be able to get around, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said.
Already, the railroad company has agreed to pay officers to direct traffic on Whiteland Road, a key east-west route, when upgrades are made to the railroad crossing, which could begin as soon as this week.
Improvements to the Louisville & IndianaRailroadCo. tracks, which traverse Johnson County through Edinburgh, Franklin, Whiteland and Greenwood, began in May and are set to be complete this summer. The upgrades to the tracks will allow them to carry more trains that travel at a faster speed, but the improvements have left business owners, drivers and city officials frustrated, as work has led to street closures and difficulties in finding places to cross the tracks.
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The improvements are finished in Edinburgh and nearly complete in Franklin, with work at the crossings along Commerce Drive, Earlywood Drive, Graham Road and Lynhurst Street remaining and scheduled to wrap up in a couple of weeks. Improvements to three railroad crossings in Whiteland are underway now, and work on another seven crossings in Greenwood is set to begin soon.
For all four communities with railroad crossings, one primary concern has been the ability of firefighters and police officers to respond to emergencies.
For the Whiteland Fire Department, on the east side of the railroad tracks, access to the west side of the town is a serious concern, fire chief Jeff Wilson said.
To get a fire truck across the town while Whiteland Road is closed would require going to either Tracy Road or Paul Hand Boulevard, either of which would delay a response to an emergency, he said.
The department will work with other fire departments in Greenwood, New Whiteland, Needham and Franklin to get assistance if they can’t make it to an emergency themselves due to work at the railroad crossings, Wilson said.
When work on Whiteland Road begins, Whiteland police officers will be out directing traffic, but their hours will be paid by the railroad, town manager Norm Gabehart said.
The primary concern is making sure semis don’t end up stuck at the crossing, but local officers also will be better prepared to direct drivers around the construction, he said.
Both Whiteland and Greenwood want the railroad company to limit the number of crossing being worked on at the same time to give drivers a chance to get around the work. For example, the railroad company agreed to not close Tracy Road and Paul Hand Boulevard at the same time as Whiteland Road.
For one businesses on the west side of the tracks on Whiteland Road, having access to the interstate cut off is the primary concern.
Getting to Interstate 65 can already be a challenge when trains cross the tracks at Whiteland Road, but when that crossing closes for work, that will add a lot of time to getting out to the interstate, said Josh Richards, the general manager at Beeson Mechanical Service.
Rusty Flake, the owner of Advanced Automotive Diagnostic and Repair, just wants to know that all three crossings in Whiteland won’t close at the same time, which would severely limit access to his business.
Greenwood plans to make similar requests of the railroad company.
“We’re going to have to have a conversation about them closing no more than two intersections at a time, and when they do Main Street, not to do Broadway Street at the same time,” Myers said.
If Broadway Street and Main Street were closed at the same time, that would make getting to the northwest side of the city difficult for the fire department, which has a station along Main Street, he said.
The one advantage Greenwood has compared to other Johnson County communities is having the only bridge over the railroad on Smith Valley Road.
In Edinburgh, because the improvements to the crossing at State Road 252 had been completed last year, residents always had at least one spot they could count on being able to cross the tracks, which was a big help, town manager Wade Watson said.
The upgrades wrapped up about a month ago, and went as well as they could have, Watson said.
The railroad company communicated well with Edinburgh town officials on what roads would close and if the work schedules changed, Watson said. The only complaint he heard from residents was about the rough, temporary fill that had been put in around the tracks at the crossing.
Knowing when work will take place has been a challenge in Whiteland, Gabehart said.
“They’ll tell you a date, and then it will vary quite a bit,” Gabehart said.
Greenwood also will work closely with the railroad company to monitor the closings, Myers said.
“It’s something we will have to keep an eye on and hope they run on the right schedule,” he said.
Work to improve railroad crossings along the Louisville & Indiana Railroad Co. line is progressing north through Johnson County. Here is where work is set to take place in the coming month.
Paul Hand Boulevard
Stop 18 Road