Cars suddenly out of the path of trains

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Perseverance is paying off for many Gulfport residents. Their long battle to close eight unsafe railroad crossings in their neighborhoods is about to come to an end.

Gulfport voted to close crossings deemed too dangerous in 2008. But, CSX wouldn't begin that project until it installed safety features on the 25 Gulfport crossings in Gulfport that will remain open. So the work to close the eight crossings didn't start until just a few months ago. Monday, CSX notified the city that the only requirement now is a final inspection.

When a train rumbles along the tracks in Gulfport, eight crossings are suddenly off-limits to cars. For instance, barricades block the crossing on 31st Avenue. And signs at the 29th Avenue crossing point drivers to another path.

Libby Milner Roland is the council member who represents west Gulfport, where most of the closed crossings exist.

"CSX and MDOT came back and tore, removed the asphalt from the street edge all the way across," she explained.

Six years ago, the ward two councilwoman pushed to close unsafe crossings. Some of them were just a block apart. The move was prompted by a CSX study that ranked Harrison County third in the nation in the number of train-related fatalities.

"I know that we have had at least eight in the city of Gulfport on this west side," said Milner-Roland, recounting the number of accidents from downtown Gulfport to the city's western limits.

Charles Hutchins is with the Westside Community Association.

"I had a neighbor that was killed several years ago," he said.

The Westside Community Association spearheaded the drive to close the crossings. The group's former president says it's been a frustrating battle to get to the project started.

"It took until the last three months before they actually started closing the crossings," Hutchins said, "and we had a lot of accidents that could have been prevented had they been closed earlier."

Once the city and traffic engineers finish their final inspections of these crossings, the project will officially be over. And to thank the city for its efforts, CSX is giving Gulfport a nice bonus.

"It will amount to about $75,000 to $100,000 in incentive money for us closing these crossings, so that's all going to go back into the neighborhoods that allowed us to do it," said the councilwoman. "But everybody around here is absolutely ecstatic that it's finally come to this."

Other crossings that are closed in Gulfport are 18th Avenue, 32nd Avenue, 40th Avenue, along with Woodward, Ruth and Hardy Avenues.

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