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City Talk: Voters rejected fix for train crossing delays

In Sunday’s newspaper, Kelly Quimby reported on the disruptions caused by trains in Garden City.

According to the story, “those living and working along the CSX Corp. rail line in the city say the Jacksonville transportation company’s trains have been shutting down traffic on either side of the tracks for miles, blocking off access to homes and businesses for several hours, sometimes multiple times per day.”

Community pleas or political pressure might improve the current situation, but the long-term trends suggest more problems down the line. The number of containers arriving at the port will continue growing for the foreseeable future, and the regional population is growing steadily too.

We should expect more trains, more cars and more conflicts.

The most straightforward way to address the problem is to eliminate the crossings by elevating or lowering either the roadway or the tracks.

If the 2012 T-SPLOST referendum had passed, a total of about $50 million would have been earmarked for grade separations on State Routes 21 and 25.

“Those projects would likely have a considerable positive impact on economic activity and on quality of life for area residents,” I wrote in this column before the vote.

The projects would almost certainly not have been finished by now, but state law would have required the completion of all the projects on the regional list.

T-SPLOST — a special purpose local option sales tax for transportation projects — would have added an additional 1 percent to sales taxes for a 10-year period. The referendum failed miserably across the coastal region, including a 14 point drubbing in Chatham County.

The regional T-SPLOST also would have raised about $90 million for new bridges on the road to Tybee. Again, those projects would not have been completed by now, but we would not be in limbo like we are now.

After the regional T-SPLOST referenda were defeated across most of the state, Geogia’s political leaders eventually pushed through an increase in the gas tax and found other revenues for transportation projects, but the spending priorities are being decided largely in Atlanta, not here.

Local voters have routinely supported SPLOST and E-SPLOST, but T-SPLOST never got traction. Many critics objected to the inclusion of certain projects and voted against the referendum even if they had personal stakes in seeing specific projects completed.

If we simply wait for funding to work its way through the usual labyrinthine pipelines, we could be waiting for a generation or more for needed improvements on routes 21, 25, 80 and other key corridors.

Let’s hope state and local leaders manage to speed up that timeline.

City Talk appears every Sunday and Tuesday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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