Railroad Crossing Safety Concerns in Bluffton Addressed by ORDC, PUCO

by Paula McKibben   The people in Bluffton should start to feel as though they have won the safety lottery. First, it was announced that the village is getting pedestrian beacons to help pedestrians to cross in front of the high school. Now, the village is getting crossing signals and crossing arms at the Norfolk Southern tracks located on County Line Road between John’s Body Shop and Tower.
   How did this happen? Each year, according to Julianne Kaercher, public information officer for the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC), there is a diagnostic review blitz where 20-25 possible projects are identified. Problem tracks are identified as a result of an average daily traffic count, a limited line of sight, excess foliage, farm field issues, more trains, the speed of the trains, or any combination of the above.
   The diagnostic meeting for this crossing was held in April 2016 with the ORDC rail inspectors, Norfolk Southern, the Public Utilities Commission (PUCO), the Hancock County Engineer (Doug Cade) and the Bluffton village administrator (Jamie Mehaffie).
   As a result of the review, Kaercher says, “The upgrade was determined as necessary by the consensus due to high average daily traffic and the potential for a collision. The surface of the roadway was indicated to need repair as part of the project to ensure the circuitry operated correctly.”
   The PUCO officially approved the project on Feb. 8 of this year.
   The cost of the project is estimated to be $376,933, which was “well within the average,” according to Matt Schilling, media contact for the PUCO. The Federal Railroad Administration will cover the cost for the entire project which will involve several groups.
   To begin, an engineering crew makes the plans. From these, a Norfolk Southern railroad crew will do the signals and any work between the two rails. An electric utility will be on hand to bring electricity to the signals and arms. Then, a local highway authority will be responsible for repairing the roadway coming to the tracks.
   The deadline for the completion of the project was set for Nov. 8, well within the nine to 12-month deadline that PUCO encourages.
Documentation for this project can be viewed at PUCO.Ohio.gov. In the search bar, type in docket number 17-0109. Click on this number again on the new screen, and four documents will pop up for perusal.