Delaware County officials see the potential closing of a Lewis Center rail crossing as a setback to public safety -- but some residents say closing the crossing at Franklin Street to vehicles would be a blessing to their quiet neighborhood.
Both sides cite the use of Franklin Street as a cut-through to defend their arguments.
All will have a chance to explain their stances at a public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. July 9 at the Orange branch of the Delaware County District Library, 7171 Gooding Blvd.
Norfolk-Southern and CSX railroads have petitioned the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio to close the crossing.
Lewis Center Road, which runs parallel to Franklin Street, is a major east-west corridor. The 3,000-dwelling Evans Farm development is rising off Lewis Center Road, bringing with it concerns about traffic, rail safety and quality-of-life issues.
Trent Yates, a longtime resident of the area, would like Franklin to dead-end on both sides of the tracks.
"When school lets out and people don't want to wait for the buses, we're the cut-through," he said.
Delaware County, however, sees value in a cut-through, because one of its 10 ambulance stations abuts the tracks at Franklin Street.
"Closing anything in that area could impede (emergency response) ... especially to the west," said Mike Schuiling, chief of Delaware County EMS.
When trains stop or slow, traffic on Lewis Center Road backs up, and ambulances need Franklin Street as an alternative route, Schuiling said. The station there, with two ambulances, serves Orange, Liberty and Berlin townships and is one of the busiest, Schuiling said.
Both the county and Orange Township have filed resolutions with the PUCO opposing the closure, at least until there are alternative routes.
In its opposition filing, the county states that until the proposed extension of Home Road from U.S. Route 23 to Lewis Center Road is complete, "maintaining the Franklin Street crossing is vital to maintaining reasonable traffic flows."
The Home Road extension could take years.
In Ohio, 22 of about 5,700 rail crossings have closed since 2013, according to the PUCO.
"Many are part of larger projects in cooperation with local (governments) where railroads will upgrade safety devices at crossings in exchange for closing others," said PUCO spokesman Matt Schilling. In just a few, rail companies have petitioned to close crossings without local support, he said.
The Franklin Street rail crossing has crossbucks but no gates or lights. There have been no major accidents, but safety concerns remain.
In one case, a motorist slid off the steep drop-off beside Franklin at the tracks. Her car got stuck as a train approached, said resident Bob Keith. Fortunately, a colleague of Keith's at the nearby North Unitarian Universalist Congregation helped the woman to safety.
"If they were going to keep it, they ought to do gates, but the railroad doesn't want to spend the money," Keith said.
About 40 trains pass through daily at speeds between 40 and 60 mph. About 65 vehicles cross the tracks daily, according to the railroads' petition to close the crossing. By comparison, more than 10,000 vehicles cross the tracks on nearby Lewis Center Road each day.