Olentangy Valley News

Signal at Powell rail crossing moves closer to reality

Queue cutter designed to keep cars from stopping on downtown tracks


Powell officials are close to approving a fix to a potentially dangerous situation at the railroad crossing west of the city's downtown.

Powell City Council conducted a first reading July 1 of an ordinance allowing the Ohio Rail Development Commission to install a new traffic signal at the CSX railroad's intersection with Olentangy Street. The council could not suspend rules requiring multiple readings of the ordinance and take a vote because only four council members were present.

City Manager Steve Lutz said the commission, a division of the Ohio Department of Transportation, has agreed to pay nearly $100,000 to install a queue cutter traffic signal at the railroad crossing. The signal is designed to display a red light when traffic congestion is heavy to prevent cars from stopping on the tracks.

"Other ancillary improvements or upgrades will be the city's responsibility," Lutz said.

This will include installation of a traffic island, or "pork chop," at the intersection of Depot and Olentangy streets.

The city currently has a temporary traffic island in place at the intersection to prevent cars on Olentangy Street from turning left onto Depot Street. The rail commission and city officials agreed the queue cutter will not function properly if such turns are allowed.

The city installed the temporary island in early June to test whether a pork chop would make a good permanent solution at the site.

City spokeswoman Megan Canavan said seven drivers have been cited for prohibited left turns at Depot Street since the island was installed. She said the city has not determined when a permanent replacement for the temporary island will be constructed.

The rail commission also previously had recommended the city install a new left-turn lane at Olentangy Street's intersection with Hall Street, but later said it would pay for the queue cutter even if that change was not made.

Police officials have deemed the railroad crossing a safety hazard, noting a near-collision in November in which two cars drove through a railroad gate arm to get off the tracks ahead of an oncoming train.

Police Chief Gary Vest has said someone eventually will die at the crossing if the city does not take action to solve the problem.

Lutz said the installation of the queue cutter is expected to take place sometime in 2015.

"We'll have a better feel for that over the winter months," he said.