State officials will hold three meetings this week (Nov. 28–Dec 2) to get public comments on Durham County railroad crossings.
The “visioning workshops” are the start of a “Traffic Separation Study” aimed at improving safety, and the public’s opinion matters, said city Transportation Director Mark Ahrendsen. “Anything that’s done with these crossings … affects communities as well,” he said.
Depending on the study results and cost estimates, some crossings could get stoplights or gates, be converted to over- or underpasses or be closed. Where money for improvements might come from is a question for later, said Sandra Stepney, spokeswoman at the N.C. Department of Transportation Rail Division. “This is just the study phase,” she said.
The study covers 18 crossings on the railroad’s 12.7-mile corridor between Neal and Cornwallis roads.
Anticipating an increase in passenger traffic on the N.C. Railroad line, the state transportation board appropriated $140,000 for the study, with Triangle Transit, the city of Durham and Norfolk Southern Railway chipping in $20,000 apiece.
In 2004, Norfolk Southern suggested closing the Blackwell Street crossing and offered $4 million to build a pedestrian underpass connecting the American Tobacco and Diamond View office complexes with downtown. City officials refused to go along with the idea and suggested a bridge to carry the tracks over a rebuilt Blackwell Street. The railroad dismissed that proposal as too expensive. The company also dismissed Downtown Durham Inc. CEO Bill Kalkhof’s suggestion to rebuild the tracks to run underground.
These workshops will have a “drop-in” format and be held from 5 to 7 p.m. at these locations:

* Monday, Nov. 28: Durham Armory, 212 Foster Street, for downtown crossings between Gregson Street and Driver Street.

* Tuesday, Nov. 29: Trinity Ballroom, Hilton Durham, 3800 Hillsborough Road, for crossings in west Durham between Neal Road and Buchanan Boulevard.

* Thursday, Dec. 1: NC Biotechnology Center, Hamner Conference Center – Glaxo Galleria, 15 T.W. Alexander Drive in RTP, for closings in eastern Durham between Ellis and Cornwallis Roads.

DOT will take written comments until Jan. 6 and pedestrian safety recommendations are due by the end of January. The full study is scheduled to run until April 2013.

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