By MYRA THRIFT, Staff Writer
“Accidents waiting to happen.”
That’s how city and county officials described traffic problems in Waycross and Ware County during the quarterly meeting of the Transportation Planning Coordinating Committee Tuesday morning — problems caused by trains blocking rail grade crossings, heavy traffic tie-ups at traffic lights and no left turn arrows where they are desperately needed.
Mayor John Knox and Ware County Chairman Jimmy Brown agree that the traffic issues are a result of a lack of planning years ago and designs that did not take the motoring public into consideration when the South Georgia Parkway was constructed.
Knox noted that Waycross is experiencing growth in traffic volume that is only going to worsen after the Highway 84 West four-laning is finished and the dredging of the Savannah River is completed, which will cause more traffic, especially heavy trucks, to be routed through Waycross.
Much discussion at Tuesday’s courthouse meeting revolved around the problem of trains blocking grade crossings, often for hours at a stretch.
Ware County Board of Education rep Rusty Ganas, who resides in Jamestown where the problem has become acute, asked if the city or county could pass an ordinance to prevent trains from blocking the rail crossings for certain lengths of time. It was pointed out by others in the room that in the mornings when trains are stopped on the rails between Waycross and Blackshear, employees on the train get off and “break” the train at the crossing in front of Ace Pole Yard to allow motorcar traffic access onto and off of Youmans Chapel Road.
Such etiquette is never practiced by CSX in Waycross-Ware where the long parked and stationary freight trains have been a major safety issue over the past several years, cutting off the path of emergency-rescue vehicles (and all other motor traffic) for, at times, hours.
Jana Dyke, executive director of the Waycross-Ware County Development Authority, said local economic development officials have been speaking with Craig Camuso of CSX and that officials are well aware of the traffic problems in Waycross. She encouraged everyone to select a different route that is not affected by the trains and to remain positive while the issues are worked out. Transient motorists passing through town, however, do not know how to maneuver around the trains via alternate routes.
Knox said that 35,000 people living in Ware County believe something should be done about the CSX issue. He added that the railroad is governed by the federal surface transportation authorities.
“There is nobody we can complain to that can do anything about it,” said Knox.
City Manager Raphel Maddox added that the same problems exist in Jacksonville, Fla., and Fitzgerald among other locations.
The length of the trains has become a factor, and, with the trains carrying 180 to 200 cars, some in the room wondered if the locomotive engines are struggling to pull such weight and if it is not actually costing the railroad money.
Ware County Commissioner Danny Turner pointed out that Waycross and Ware County is a railroad community and that he is hopeful that CSX will look at pulling shorter trains.
Knox asked why the bridge between Waycross and Blackshear had become a major project of concern for the state and was added as one of the projects for Ware County’s portion of the T-SPLOST.
Byron Cowart, of the DOT office in Jesup, said bridge repairs are needed because of the aging substructure underneath the bridge.
“I never knew such problems existed at that bridge,” said Knox. “And I wonder why we didn’t hear about before from the DOT.”
It was pointed out that the bridge was widened three times — 1958, 1970 and in the 1990s — and that the columns beneath the bridge need to be replaced to ensure safety.
Regarding other local transpo issues, however, things are moving swimmingly in the city and county especially inasmuch as needed projects are about to be addressed thanks to the new T-SPLOST.
City engineer Jessica Deal noted that the City Boulevard repair project is nearing completion with work on curb and gutter and the catch basin still to be finished.
“We may possibly be able to open the road next week, weather permitting,” said Deal. “The contractor has really stepped up. They knew how important this project is and I am thankful to them for the urging they felt.”
She added that projects on Buchannon and Seminole Trail have been completed and work will begin soon on a project for the sidewalk extension from Garlington Heights to Victory Drive and George Street on both sides of the South Georgia Parkway (Georgia 520). The city received a GDOT grant for part of the funding for this project, Deal said.
Surveying on Colley, Johnson, Robert and “K” streets is moving along and Dewey Street is in design for the 2018 Local Maintenance Improvement Grant program.
Ware County engineer Brandon Wallace reported that the box culvert project on Gilchrist Avenue is well underway with the culvert having been poured. Recent rainfall, he said, has been the holdup since a tremendous amount of water flows through that area. The same issue — recent heavy rain — is hampering the Birchwood project in the county, he said.
The Central Avenue resurfacing from City Boulevard to the Brantley County line is supposed to be started today. Drivers are being asked to find an alternate route if they need to travel Central unless it is absolutely necessary.
Several other projects in the county are underway. The engineering for the paving of Cypress Street is underway with bidding set for later this summer or early fall, Wallace said.
“Hatcher Point Road is on track for bidding in September,” said Wallace of the long-needed street-widening project.
The meeting ended on an upbeat note with some good economic news.
Dyke announced to the board that papers were to be signed soon for the construction of a 100,000-square-foot distribution center at the industrial park. She said she still could not announce the company name until a later date.
She added that other projects are being sought and commended GATX on the recent groundbreaking for the $35 million expansion in the industrial park.