BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Railroad crossings can be notoriously dangerous.
You'll find more than a dozen crossings involving the Kansas City Southern (KCS) railroad over a two mile stretch on the edge of downtown Baton Rouge from Spanish Town Road south to Louise Street. Some bisect major corridors like Government Street. Others cross through crowded neighborhoods like Smith Street.
The more crossings there are, the higher the chance for tragedies.
"The problem is, if you have a large number of crossings, you're definitely going to increase your odds of having a crash," said DOTD spokesman, Rodney Mallett.
The Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) and KCS says they've come up with a plan to make these crossings safer. Using a million dollar federal gr ant, they hope to upgrade and repair ten of the crossings at North Street, Main Street, Laurel Street, Florida Boulevard, Convention Street, Government Street, Wisteria Street, Myrtle Walk Street, Terrace Avenue, and Louise Street.
Six others at Gayosa Street, South Boulevard, Julia Street, Smith Street, Orange Street, and Apple Street would be closed permanently. According to DOTD, the sidewalks at these crossings would be removed, however pedestrian crossings would be created at several of the other crossings and detours would also be built where needed.
"We went out there and we did a site visit at every crossing. We looked at safety features. We looked at connectivity. We looked at detours and tried to present to the public the best, safest scenario that we can for crossing the railroad tracks in this area," said Mallett.
When officials presented that plan to the folks who live next to the crossings, many weren't happy. "From what I've looked at, it's really going to inconvenience the people in the community," said pastor and resident, Levert Kemp.
Kemp's church sits near the railroad and says the proposed closures would force many of this parishioners and neighbors to go out of their way just to move around in their own community. He also worries it will only add to traffic issues. The community's state lawmaker is worried as well.
"People are going to be cut off from a lot of different accesses that they had before," said Rep. Pat Smith. "Why not fix the tracks and let people have their access? That's what I don't understand."
Smith says her community felt blindsided by the proposal. She believes there wasn't enough outreach to those most impacted by the possible closures. However, Mallett explains that was the purpose of a public meeting held Monday evening. During the meeting, residents could leave comments and voice their concerns. Then, officials will go back and rework the proposal as needed. Comments can also be mailed in until November 20.
"Before we move forward with this plan, we're going to address each of these comments," said Mallett.
Mallett adds there is not a set timeline on when the state will move forward with the project.
Comments can be mailed to the DOTD address shown below, postmarked by November 20.
Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development
Environmental Engineer Administrator, Section 28
P.O. Box 94245
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9245