Arkansas Highway Department studying railroad overpass

TRUMANN, AR (KAIT) - The Arkansas Highway Department has reviewed several railroad crossings in Trumann to determine the best course of action if extra funding is found for future transportation projects. Highway officials met with Mayor Sheila Walters and city council members to discuss the railroad crossings at Highway 69 and Main Street. At issue, large trucks have been unable to cross the tracks easily and three options have been examined.

"This is the very beginning of the planning process and they meet with the officials and discuss the possibilities," said Walters.

Walters said three options have been mentioned. One would reconstruct a new railroad overpass at Highway 69 to provide more clearance for semi-trucks crossing the tracks. The second option would be to build an At-Grade Crossing, much like the one at Main Street. The third option would be to do nothing.

Walters said the best course for Trumann would be to reconstruct a railroad overpass.

"This is a long time project and to do the option that we would like to do, which is a major overpass, is about 7.5 million dollars and that's not going to happen overnight," said Walters. "I feel like, if we get something, we need the major improvement so that we wouldn't have to worry about large trucks crossing."

Walters said the problems posed by the current crossing situation are that large trucks can't pass over the crossing at Main Street or under the overpass on Highway 69.

"Our problems in the past have been, we do have one overpass on Main Street and we have trucks that don't meet the criteria to pass over it. They get hung on the railroad tracks," said Walters. "We have to have an overpass. When we had this ice storm damage, our big trucks had to go over the overpass on Main Street so we can't close one. We would've had to go all the way to Bay to get to our burn site which would not have been cost effective."

According to officials with the highway department, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company came to the state and requested a review of the overpass in Trumann. The railroad replaced the overpass in 2005.

"If we could move quickly enough that something could be done to do away with that structure, then it was possible that Burlington Northern would participate in some fashion in the construction cost. We weren't able to move fast enough and Burlington Northern has since replaced their structure," said Barnett.

Walters and Barnett said a new railroad overpass would be beneficial for the city of Trumann in that it could sell itself to businesses. Highway 69 is a main road for trucks going to Jonesboro from Trumann.

"We have some trucks that operate on the other side of the railroad tracks that have to cross over or many times they'll take the Old Bay Highway if they're going to Jonesboro but this would be more economical for them and on better roads," said Walters.

"Any prospective industry that was looking at that area, that would certainly be an issue if they were going to locate on one side of the railroad and needed to get to the other side, and couldn't get large trucks across then that certainly would be an issue. It's an issue now with some large grain trucks. Some of those have problems, some large farm equipment have problems so it's already and issue and it could potentially be a larger issue," said Barnett.

Walters said the city has to have an easy route of moving across the railroad tracks. If one crossing were shut down, then trucks would have to go to Bay to get back to Trumann.

"We certainly would not have the funds to take care of that, but if we get an At-Grade Railroad Crossing just like we already have in existence at Bay, I still have the same problems," said Walters.

"There are 4 existing crossings. 3 underpasses and one at-grade crossing and none of those are really built in the manner that will adequately carry the amount of traffic," said Barnett. "A planning study is the first in a very long process to actually get something done. Not all projects that we do planning studies on end in construction. This is just to see if something is feasible to get some handle on what the cost might be so that the Highway Commission can make a decision about what direction to proceed in if in fact we proceed."

According to the report, there have been 23 accidents since the new bridge was constructed in 2005. 20 of the 23 have involved accidents where the vehicle was too tall for the overpass.

"We discussed with the Highway Department about putting some arms down, safety arms. We have been fortunate in the last few years that I think people have paid more attention, but we want to do anything we can to make them safe and that's a small item that they're going to help us with," said Walters.

"The department has undertaken a planning study to see if improvements are feasible and what we might do and this planning study is ongoing now," said Barnett. "The issue at all 4 crossings in handling the traffic has to do with large trucks. The underpasses are adequate for vehicular traffic, small cars and pickups. Large trucks are too tall to get underneath those. The At-Grade Crossing on Main Street, large trucks could cross it except the grade is so steep that they high center when they try to get over the tracks."