Crossing’s infamous status

June 3, 2012 

“It was the third of June, another sleepy, dusty Delta day,” as the song goes.

Every June 3rd, I start singing the lyrics from Bobbie Gentry’s tune that she penned in 1967, “Ode to Billie Joe.”

The first-person narrative in the mega-hit describes the fictional death of a young man, Billie Joe MacAllister. Billie Joe met his fate by jumping into the muddy waters of the Tallahatchie River, located up on Choctaw Ridge.

Bobbie Gentry uses poor grammar regarding a negative sentiment about the well-known location, “And mama said ... seems like nothin’ ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge.”

I couldn’t help but think about the notorious Choctaw Ridge in recent days while examining the carnage associated with the Ignico Drive at the Ga. 247 location in Warner Robins.

Last Sunday’s deaths of passengers Danell Reid and her 13-month-old baby, Kinsley, are just the latest fatalities at the site of the railroad crossing. So far, the driver of the car, Willie Lyons has survived the collision.

Multiple victims who have endured crashes after their vehicles were thumped on those stained tracks consistently report that the trains were in their proximity before they had time to react. Personally, I do not understand this phenomenon, but thankfully, I have not been faced with a comparable scenario.

Not to assign blame or point fingers, but it is in tragedies like this that causes frustrations with bureaucracy and government. Safety crossing arms have been promised but installation has yet to start. Even officials in leadership positions seemed a bit frustrated this week in attempting to get solid answers about how to remedy the hazardous conditions at the infamous intersection.

Jim Cole, our 8th Congressional District representative with the State Transportation Board, told me Friday that several agencies will have to be involved, including the Georgia Department of Transportation and the city of Warner Robins. “It’s a city road and that makes handling it differently from state roads,” Cole said.

Warner Robins Mayor Chuck Shaheen has vowed to oversee an expedited installation of the gates, taking it on as a “personal project.” The mayor told me that if the city needs to consider widening the road, appropriate action in moving in that direction would be taken. He started the conversation in a Friday morning meeting with city engineers and Police Chief Brett Evans.

State Rep. Larry O’Neal, R-Warner Robins, sent The Telegraph reporters a copy of an e-mail conversation he had with DOT officials. Wayne Crenshaw reported the e-mail says the department is in talks with the city of Warner Robins about improvements at the crossing. The agency also estimated the costs for gates at $250,000 to $350,000, with the state responsible for the design and cost of the installation, although Norfolk-Southern will actually install and maintain equipment.

In July 2011, Becky Purser reported that the Ignico Drive crossing had been declared “dangerous” and, under the 2008 Rail Safety Improvement Act passed by the U.S. Congress, some of our federal tax monies were set aside to add crossing arms or a crossing gate.

At the time, GDOT regional spokesperson Kimberly Larson said the crossing at Ignico Drive, just across from Robins Air Force Base, “is expected to get a gate within the next 10 to 12 months.”

Well, that is unlikely. We are now in month 11 and it will take a good amount of time to accomplish the overdue task. With municipal and legislative muscle behind this project and the picture of Danell Reid and her baby in our mind’s eye, certainly there is ample motivation to compel GDOT Commissioner Keith Golden and Deputy Commissioner Todd Long to get active.

We have learned the status quo is not working. At present, seems like nothing ever comes to any good up on Ignico and Ga. 247.

Kenny Burgamy serves as a marketing consultant and is co-host of the Kenny B. Charles E., TV, radio and Internet program and is a marketing consultant for NewTown Macon.

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