UCDA seeking support, endorsement for Glenfield railroad overpass project

The Union County Development Association is continuing its push to deal with what a group of area industry CEOs see as their biggest problems, and is focusing on traffic in the Glenfield industrial area in particular.

UCDA Executive Director Phil Nanney reviewed the issues cited by those at the organization’s monthly breakfast meetings this past Thursday, listing actions being taken so far.

The main part of the program, however, was a PowerPoint presentation on a study of ways to link Sam Tom Barkley Drive and Munsford Drive, getting rid of the bottleneck at Glenfield Road and West Bankhead at the same time.

The solution appears to be an overpass over the Burlington Northern Railroad line.

“There have been connected efforts to deal with this terrible intersection,” Nanney said. “We have developed a plan to build an overpass over 178 and the railroad from Munsford to Barkley Drive.”

Nanney has been meeting with city and county officials, who support the effort, he said.

The overpass would mean closing the railroad crossing on Glenfield Road, which Nanney said would help both in terms of safety and industrial development.

“MDOT says 7,700 vehicles go through the intersection every day,” Nanney said. “And that includes 1,200 students.”

At present, there are no emergency response units on the north side of the railroad. That means if a train is blocking the crossings in the area, fire, ambulance or law enforcement responders would have to go all the way through town to Hwy. 15 and head north to the east end of Barkly Drive to respond.

Although not as critical, industrial traffic has the same problem, as well as difficulty for large trucks in making a sharp turn at the Glenfield intersection.

“This route is the only access for industrial traffic and goes through a residential area, too,” he said. “There are often traffic jams at the light.”

Nanney said another factor is that they want to expand the industrial park area as well. “There is a lot of greenfield area there that we can expand with existing infrastructure, and we need to expand for Toyota tier I suppliers,” he said, but prospective developers will balk when they see the traffic problem now.

The overpass would have the added benefit of providing better access to the New Albany-Union County Airport and at the same time complete another link in the outer loop around the city.

The Burlington Northern officials want to close as many grade crossings as they can, anyway, he continued. “They already closed one road, a good one, guarded, and left a private, not guarded, not gated one,” he said, referring to crossings at the former Stratford-Futorian plant.

“What can you do?” Nanney asked at the conclusion of the presentation.

“We have been told that we need to start at the grass roots level. We need to get federal funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation to MDOT and on down, he said.

Local officials have talked with those in Sen. Roger Wicker and Rep. Alan Nunnelee’s offices, Nanney said. “They said we need to get as many letters of recommendation from as many industrial CEOs as possible,” he said.

To help, Nanney said the UCDA will provide sample letters, or CEOs can write their own.

“It will take all of you to see this move,” he said. “The aldermen and supervisors are behind this. I see you as the next step.”

The project is expected to cost from $20 to $25 million, not including access roads, Nanney said, and that is just a rough consultant’s estimate, not based on an engineering study. Since the two roads do not easily match up and some things could be in the way, at least four different routes will be considered, Nanney said. It ultimately will fall to MDOT to determine the one chosen.

“BNSF has been reluctant,” Nanney said concerning their conversations about the project. “But they did give us an idea of what will be needed.”

“This may not be an immediate project, but it is a first step,” Nanney said.

“We are on that side of the track and have to face that train every day,” Cooper Electric CEO Gary Cooper told the group. “There is even some tardiness (in addition to the safety factor).”

“This is very important. It has been talked about a number of years. We think the people who listen will listen to the voters out there,” Cooper, who is also president of the UCDA, said.

Kevin Charles Fine Furniture CEO Rusty Berryhill agreed and commented that “I happened to see one of my trucks going by the hospital and wondered why (his plant is on Barkley Drive, nowhere close to the hospital).” He later asked the driver, who replied that he could not make the turn on 178 and was having to take a long alternate route.

Although a railroad overpass will be expensive and require a lot of adjustment, it still appears to be what is needed.

“This is not the first option we looked at,” Nanney said. “We considered buying the corner (at Bankhead and Glenfield).” But price would be a factor and, more important, because of diesel fuel and other in the area, the EPA would not allow any digging.

Nanney said he would follow up to provide any assistance industries and businesses may need in expressing organized support for railroad overpass funding.