As grants fix dozens of rail crossings, Olive Road bridge still a sore point

Once again, the Olive Road bridge has been struck by a truck? So why don't they fix the problem? It's harder than it sounds.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 10:43 AM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Ga. - With the rail industry relying on longer and longer trains to cut costs, the Biden administration is handing out $570 million in grants to help eliminate many railroad crossings in 32 states.

Augusta’s infamous Olive Road bridge isn’t one of them.

The grants announced Monday will contribute to building bridges or underpasses at the sites of more than three dozen crossings that delay traffic and sometimes keep first responders from where help is desperately needed.

In some places, trains routinely stretching more than 2 miles long can block crossings for hours, cutting off access to parts of towns and forcing pedestrians to attempt the dangerous act of climbing through trains that could start moving without warning.

“We see countless stories of people unable to get to work on time, goods being blocked from getting where they need to be and first responders being delayed by these these trains that can be slowed or stopped — even seeing images of children having to crawl between or under freight trains in order to get to school,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

Projects in our region receiving funds are:

  • Chatham County, Ga.: Planning and project development for a track relocation and one grade separation, eliminating 11 at-grade crossings on CSX and Norfolk Southern right-of-way and letting longer trains enter a port facility.
  • DeKalb County, Ga.: Develop a grade separation at the Constitution Road crossing on Norfolk Southern’s Atlanta Terminal subdivision, a crossing that’s blocked about 45 times a day.
  • Gwinnett County, Ga.: Feasibility study on three crossings on CSX track in Gwinnett County. These three crossings experience different challenges - safety, future traffic increases and curved approaches.
  • Florence, S.C.: A study of 33 crossings within the Florence city limits to determine needed safety improvements to rail rights-of-way owned by CSX and the South Carolina Central Railroad.

These grants are part of $3 billion in funding approved in the $1 trillion infrastructure law for these rail crossing projects that will be doled out over the next five years.

States and cities — sometimes with the help of the railroads — must cover at least 20% of the project cost.

As far as Augusta’s Olive Road bridge, the problem there isn’t a blocked roadway. The railroad tracks pass over the roadway on a bridge that’s so low, most box trucks can’t pass under it.

Despite a host of warnings and signs, drivers are constantly misjudging the height and trucks are getting stuck under it, most recently on May 23.