City approves plans to close RR crossing

Published 11:30 am Thursday, September 11, 2014

Vicksburg has the OK from Kansas City Southern Railroad to build an emergency road on the east side of the railroad’s switchyard, but some people who would be affected by closing the Speed Street crossing aren’t happy with the city’s agreement with the railroad.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Wednesday approved the right of way agreement with KCS that clears the way for city public works crews to build a gravel road along the east side of the switchyard from Klein Street to Depot Street.

The road is part of a compromise between the city and the railroad and will serve as an emergency outlet for people on the west side of Pearl Street across the tracks, allowing the city to close the Speed Street crossing north of the street’s intersection with Pearl Street. Closing the crossing will create a “quiet zone” along Pearl Street, where several bed-and-breakfasts are located.

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Mayor George Flaggs Jr. said he and North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield met recently with five members of Calvary M.B. Church, which is at the dead end of Klein Street on the west side of the railroad tracks. The group wants the Speed Street crossing to remain open. Under the plans for the emergency road, the city will extend Klein Street to the switchyard and then build the gravel road north to Depot.

“There is some disagreement on us going forth from them,” Flaggs said. “They have some concerns.”

Flaggs wrote a letter to the group explaining the two basic issues involving the crossing were to eliminate the noise from the trains’ horns and provide an emergency exit for the church.

He proposed a compromise to church members that included signs giving directions to the church and the emergency exit, and traffic control by police for funerals and church services until members of the congregation become familiar with the new route.

“It has been extremely difficult to reach a compromise on this, as it reflects from both sides, to include Kansas City,” Flaggs said. “But, we finally got Kansas City to the table. I think it is so imperative that we go ahead with this project and we do everything we can to satisfy both parties.

“But, in the event that there is no compromise, I’m willing to vote to close the crossing, provided we provide the very best in public safety, signs to tell people which way they should go, and police patrols while they have a funeral and church until the public is acclimated to the new route,” he said. “This is not an easy decision for me, but I know in my heart that this is the best decision for Vicksburg.”

North Ward Alderman Michael Mayfield said the problem on Speed Street has been ongoing since the administration of Robert Walker, adding that in the nine year’s he’s been on the board he has tried to find a solution that will be accepted by all sides.

“You have two factions down on Speed Street, Klein Street, and Oak Street, and the factions are on the east side you have businesses, and all residents on the west side,” Mayfield said. “What we’ve tried to do is tried to find a happy medium. I’ve been there 20 times or better. We’ve looked at every scenario possible.

“We are at a crossroads now where you have people on the side where the businesses are. They want you to speedily close the tracks, and I can’t say that I fault them or blame them. Then you have those one the other side to who want to make sure they have proper ingress and egress (to their homes),” he said.

He said KCS has done “what they’ve been asked to do.”

“I appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to sit down and look at this,” Mayfield told Flaggs, “I’m sure we’re going to have to look at this a little more. The first thing you have to do is look at the bigger picture. You can’t have tunnel vision with this, and I hope the light I’m seeing at the end of the tunnel isn’t another train.”

City officials have discussed closing the Speed Street crossing since 2003. It has been deemed a safety hazard by the city, because emergency vehicles have problems negotiating the crossing to get to calls on the west side.

The residents on both sides of the tracks gave their opinions on the crossing in October at a public hearing on the board’s plans to close it. The board took the closing under advisement, and city officials began meeting with KCS representatives to discuss a solution.

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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