Initial work to replace all railroad crossings along the Louisville and Indianapolis rail line through Seymour will begin in July.
For motorists, that means temporary roadblocks and detours.
A total of 14 crossings in the city will be completely dug up and replaced this summer as part of an overall $100 million project to upgrade the entire 106½ miles of rail line from Louisville to Indianapolis.
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The improved infrastructure will allow for longer, heavier, faster and more frequent trains, officials from L&I and CSX Transportation have said.
John Goldman, president of L&I, said they are in the process of putting a project schedule together.
“There will be some pre-construction activity in July, but it will be closer to September,” he said of when the actual upgrades will occur.
“This is a big topic, and we want to make sure everyone is aware of what is going on,” city engineer Nathan Frey said.
“In essence, every crossing through town, from north to south, will be torn up and replaced, which is a good thing.”
It’s costing L&I $40,000 to $70,000 to replace each intersection, he said.
Crossings will be worked on one at a time, and all road closing and detour information will be advertised in The Tribune and on the city’s website beforehand to warn the public, Frey added.
To improve traffic flow and safety during construction and to benefit the city in the future, Frey said they are working with a consultant to get traffic counts at certain intersections.
“My thought there is we need to know how we want to route traffic now and in the future,” he said.
“I think it would do us justice if we knew how to get people most efficiently from one side of town to the other and then concentrate on those corridors for intersection upgrades and added safety protection.”
One such east-to-west corridor is the Fourth Street/Burkart Boulevard route, which Frey said is the logical way to get from the east to the west side of the city and vice versa to avoid congestion on U.S. 50.
Frey said a few railroad crossings may be closed permanently, changing traffic patterns in some areas.
Others could receive improvements, such as crossing arms or flashing lights, to make them safer.
Those improvements, which will cost $25,000, would have to be funded by the city, though, Goldman said.
Federal funds, however, would be available if the city closes some crossings, and that money can then be used to enhance other crossings, he added.
Closing some crossings is a recommendation by the railroad but one Frey said could benefit the city.
“The L&I has asked us to evaluate our rail crossings with the anticipation if we were to close one,” Frey said. “They feel we have too many crossings.”
Frey said the city has a few options, including not closing any crossings or working with the railroad to identify the ones most in need of upgrades and making them safer and work more efficiently.
“And maybe identify a couple we could close,” he said.
The most probable area for any closures would be between St. Louis Avenue and Ninth Street, where there is a crossing at almost every intersecting street.
Goldman said closing crossings can force motorists to find a better route.
“People get used to going a certain way and don’t realize it can work better another way,” he said.
One area that is most in need of attention, Frey said, is the Sixth Street railroad crossing.
“In my opinion, without looking at the numbers, getting crossing gates across Sixth Street is almost a must because it’s also a major route east to west,” he said.
Besides helping improve safety, closing some crossings also will help move trains through the city faster and more quietly, Frey said.
By keeping and maintaining all crossings the way they are, trains travel through the city at 8 to 10 miles per hour, and conductors have to sound their horns at every crossing.
With the new rail, trains will be able to run at 49 mph, but through the city may be able to run at 30 mph, thus drastically cutting motorists’ time spent waiting for trains by more than half.
“The less intersections we have, the quicker the train can go through,” Frey said. “And we could work to build a quiet zone, where they don’t blow their horns anymore.”
The quiet zones would be aided by the new seamlessly welded railroad track that will be installed, Frey added.
“It gets rid of the clickety-clack sound,” he said.
But Frey said there are still a lot of questions from concerned city leaders and residents to what is going to happen.
“I think if we get some data in place, we’ll be able to make better decisions on what we want to do,” he said.
He said he plans to work with Seymour police and fire departments to see what makes sense for them.
“Safety, overall, is our major concern,” Frey said.
Another potential solution to help address traffic issues in the city from the increase in trains is an overpass.
That project would be part of plans to extend Burkart Boulevard south of U.S. 50, across State Road 11 and to Freeman Field.
“It’s a great idea, but it costs a whole lot of money, and it takes a lot of planning to get that done,” Frey said.
An overpass is estimated to cost $30 million.