Harlem Mayor John Bentley has sometimes been rightly criticized - including in this space - for jumping into proposals a little too quickly, only to be reined back in by laws that require more deliberation.
Bentleys quick action is exactly what is needed, though, in the closure of a dangerous rail crossing in Harlem. Its a crying shame that it took Mondays death of Carlene Flakes to get the crossing closed while the Georgia Department of Transportation studies options for improving the crossings safety. But at least no other motorists will be endangered in the meantime.
Across town, it was nearly a year ago that another deadly rail crossing took the life of 22-year-old Jerry Lee Ward of Evans. Like the Harlem crossing, the railroad tracks at Industrial Park Drive intersection in Evans also had no warning lights or cross-arms, even though it had been the site of other violent crashes in the past - including a collision between a train and a garbage truck just three months earlier.
Amazingly, the Industrial Park Drive crossing still has nothing more than a stop sign to warn motorists. In fact, the site is so inherently dangerous that the countys Emergency Management officials used it to stage a mock disaster drill last year!
The crossing where Flakes was killed also had a stop sign, though it lacked the railroad caution signs normally painted on the street. But Flakes, whose family insists was a safe, conscientious driver, was well aware of the presence of the train tracks; that wasnt the problem. In her case, she was killed because the short piece of Planer Mill Road between the tracks and the parallel Gordon Highway didnt leave room for the rear of her car to clear the passing train.
Bentley, who shut the crossing down two days after the wreck, says I think the recommendation will be to relocate it. If they (the DOT) say that it can be made safe, we will go with that. But I dont see that happening. Hes right; obviously, neither the train tracks nor Gordon Highway are going to be moved to make more room. If the crossing cant be relocated to a wider spot, it should remain closed.
Harlems mayor isnt stopping there. Hes also evaluating all the citys crossings; only half of them have more safety equipment than the Planer Mill crossing. And like that site, Bentley is right to shut them down if they cant be made safer.
Now, what Columbia County needs is a John Bentley to demand safety improvements for the Industrial Park Drive crossing. It shouldnt take another death to make that happen.
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.