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Georgia looking to eliminate grade crossings

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(The Center Square) — Georgia officials are exploring ways to address blocked railroad crossings, including working with railroads to install more sidings and eliminate grade crossings.

There are more than 5,000 railroad grade crossings across the Peach State.

“We do believe that a grade separation is the best way to keep those communities from being blocked,” Jannine Miller, the Georgia Department of Transportation’s planning director, said during a hearing last week. “We also know that grade separations can cost anywhere from $10 million up to $50 million each and take a long time to develop and partner with the railroads on making sure that that engineering works for both parties.”

Miller noted that a siding could require up to three miles without a grade crossing and cited the state constitution’s gratuities clause, which limits how lawmakers can allocate funds.

“We can’t give state money to a private [company]; it has to be a public-private partnership to make those happen,” Miller said. “But those would be a more cost-effective way of doing it where we can find two and three miles that doesn’t have a public crossing.”

According to Operation Lifesaver, citing Federal Railroad Administration numbers, Georgia had 98 highway-rail grade crossing collisions in 2022, the sixth most nationwide. The numbers include two deaths and 24 injuries.

Georgia saw fewer collisions than in 2021, when there were 132 grade crossing collisions. Eight deaths and 37 injuries were reported.

Last summer, the Atlanta City Council passed a measure calling on federal and state lawmakers to limit how long freight trains can block a grade crossing. However, state officials say there isn’t much they can do about blocked crossings, a problem exacerbated by railroads running longer trains.

In November, U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, D-Georgia, announced Gwinnett County received $880,000 to determine “feasible construction alternatives” for three railroad crossings with safety challenges, traffic increases and curved approaches. The lawmaker also announced $460,460 for a grade separation in DeKalb County and more than $1.8 million to eliminate 11 at-grade railroad crossings in the Savannah area.

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