Angry residents convince council to reopen road

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 2, 1999

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / October 2, 1999

LAPLACE – The St. John the Baptist Parish Council was chastised Tuesdaynight by angry residents who live around the Cardinal Street railroad crossing.

In a standing room only council chambers, members heard several irate citizens demand that the railroad crossing which had been closed for the past month be re-opened immediately.

The speakers and the crowd obviously made their point, because the council unanimously passed a resolution to take down the barricades. OnWednesday morning, several of the residents helped parish workers tear down the offending barriers.

The problem with the railroad crossing at Cardinal Street goes back to 1996, according to Civil Defense Director Bertrand Madere, who was asked by the council to explain why the crossing was closed to public traffic.

Because of the several train accidents that had occurred at railroad crossings within LaPlace, Madere formed an ad hoc committee in 1996 to study the problem. In 1997, the committee, made up of parish officials,representatives of the Illinois Central and Kansas City railroads and sheriff’s office representatives, came up with several solutions to all the railroad crossings. First they put up stop signs at all railroad crossingsbecause most people did not realize that the white crosses are stop signs.

Madere said that they would have liked to put up lights and gates at all the railroad crossings but that would cost the parish between $150,000 and $200,000 per crossing. There are five railroad crossings in the parish andthe cost of so many gates would be prohibitive.

So the committee started to see if it could consolidate railroad crossings.

The railroads offered to build roads parallel to the tracks so that traffic could move to other crossings. Several crossings were deemedsubstandard because of lack of maintenance, bad grading and uncut grass.

Cardinal Street was considered to be the least used, to have the biggest incline and to be in the worse shape. The crossing also had a majority ofthe train-auto accidents in the past 10 years. So Madere closed thecrossing down for a 30-day study to see how the closure would affect local traffic.

Tuesday night was the 28th day of the traffic study, and the residents had enough.

Resident Sherman Davis told the council, “There’s a lot of history on that street, and it is used more than any other crossing. There is no reason toclose it.”Iona Holloway scolded the councilmen, “The council has ignored the 300 residents of the Woodland subdivision. The closing of the KCS crossingwas not given any thought or planning.”Holloway said the crossing has to be opened because it was one of the few direct connections between River Road and Airline Highway, and many people use it to get to work.

Holloway was also concerned because the closing isolated that section of town from the rest of LaPlace.

“Senior citizens need ambulances to be able to get in and out of the neighborhood,” said Holloway.

Holloway insisted the railroad companies, not the parish, should be responsible for the safety of the crossings.

“The railroads have to get us out of this mess,” she told the council. “Letthem spend some money.” This brought a round of applause and cheers from the audience.

The Rev. Lawrence August brought up another danger to closing therailroad crossing.

“How can we evacuate people in an emergency?” he asked the council. “Thisis not about railroad crossings and it isn’t about money. This is aboutpeople. We should learn from Hurricane Georges. Do not put the people inharm’s way.”Councilman Perry Bailey said even if they took down the barricades, there is still a big problem on Cardinal Street. However, he made a motion totake down the barriers at 8 a.m. the next day. The motion passedunanimously.

Madere said that the parish should go to the state and ask for money to put up lights and gates at all railroad crossings in LaPlace.

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