The combination of rail and vehicle traffic on one of Columbia’s busiest streets has caused delays and backups for years.
Multiple rail crossings of busy Assembly Street downtown and near the University of South Carolina campus delay commuters, visitors and students daily in the Capital City.
In November 2017, CSX and Norfolk Southern trains stopped for more than an hour and prompted a state legislator who was stuck in the blocked traffic to file a bill penalizing railroads for such delays, but the bill did not make it through the General Assembly.
Now the South Carolina Department of Transportation wants to hear from those who drive, live or work near the crossings. DOT said it would like to develop a plan to alleviate congestion in Columbia caused by vehicle and train traffic. The Assembly Street Railroad Separation Project is in its initial stage.
“The preliminary purpose fo the project is to improve rail operations and improve vehicular connectivity while alleviating vehicle congestion associated with the frequent freight-rail movements through the project,” Program Manager Jennifer Necker said. “That’s what we’re starting to look at is how can we separate those to avoid the conflicts between the two?”
DOT is hosting a public comment session Tuesday in Columbia. The session is from 5-7 p.m. at Seawell’s on Rosewood Drive in Columbia.
“What are their issues? What are the things that we as people who don’t live in those communities don’t know that we need to know?” Necker asked. “Once we gather all of that data then we will go back and start looking at options and conceptual ideas.”
The agency currently is conducting preliminary environmental field studies, which is all DOT has funding for now. The agency expects the price tag to be massive.
“There has been some funding identified for the project for a while,” she said. “The funding that we are utilizing are all very old congressional, federal earmarks and a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration and that money can only be used for this project.”
Necker said she expects several municipalities and agencies will work together on a multi-million dollar project that would re-route roads or rail lines. At this earliest point in the process, she said it’s important to get as much input from those people who are most affected by the rail traffic.
“We truly hear what they have to say and what we do not know as people who don’t live there. We want to gather that information so we can work towards a solution that will help those in that community,” she said. “Sometimes when we don’t get enough community and public input, we run the risk of coming back and presenting options that they don’t like and that they are not happy about and we would like to avoid that. We would like all the community input we can get which would help us have options that they would welcome.”