The South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) and the City of Columbia have formed a commission to look into possible solutions for traffic problems caused by the trains crossing Assembly Street.
Joey McIntyre of the SCDOT said the commission has narrowed the proposed solutions down to six from the original 11 and will be looking at public opinion to help decide which are picked in the next round of selections. Feedback on the project can be given on the SCDOT’s website.
“We're hoping to get some feedback from the public, kind of find out some things they like and dislike about the alternatives, so we can start our level two screening of the next round of alternatives,” McIntrye said.
The last public hearing on the project is set to occur in fall 2021, according to the commission's website.
Along with public opinion, McIntyre said the proposals are evaluated based on their practicality, safety, cost, disruption to private property and environmental impacts.
Over 25,000 cars travel through the Assembly Street area every day, according to McIntyre.
“It's something that I think would benefit the city and university and the Midlands altogether,” McIntrye said.
Similar projects were first being looked into in the early 1980s, before picking up steam again in 2009 and 2010, according to McIntyre.
“It's kind of gone back and forth because — with level of interest from the city and the county, but it's something that has gotten a lot more interest here of late,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre said a study from several years ago put the cost of the project at around $400 million, but that certain proposals would most likely cost more than others.
McIntyre pointed out Alternatives 3 and 320, respectively, as being potentially more costly. Both alternatives propose closing some of the tracks that cross Assembly Street and elevating those that remain on bridges over the street, according to the project’s website.
The cost estimate will be more accurate once the proposals are narrowed down to a final two alternatives in the coming months, according to McIntyre. Once a design is picked, McIntyre said it would take "four years, but probably realistically about six" to begin construction.
McIntyre said the time frame of the project depends on a variety of factors, with funding being the main variable.
“The way that the project sits now is that the project would have to be funded primarily by either the city or a conglomeration of the city and another entity, and that funding has not been fully identified,” McIntyre said.
City engineer Dana Higgins said the city would be looking for partners to help fund the project.
“The city is going to be leading the effort to try to find partners that we can work with, to find the funding to help make the construction move forward. And that will be the state, local and federal partners that we'd be talking to,” Higgins said.
Higgins said the city was working with a quiet zone committee to help weigh in on which proposal will be selected.
Quiet zones are stretches of railroad either with no at-grade crossings, which are crossings on the same level as the street, or that meet certain safety requirements, according to Brenda Kramar, chair of the quiet zone committee.
In quiet zones, trains are not required to blow their horns as a safety precaution. Implementing quiet zones would reduce noise pollution in the area and improve safety with less at-grade railroad crossings, according to Kramar.
“Anytime you eliminate a crossing, you immediately eliminate all of the train horn noise associated with that crossing. It's also the safest alternative,” Kramar said.
Higgins said the city would wait for the SCDOT’s official selection and public feedback before looking for funding for the project.
“At that point, we would need to go out and start talking to federal, state and local partners to see if we can get the funds generated between the grants and the TIGER grants and some of these bigger funding resources,” Higgins said.