Will someone let me know the next time CSX Railroad is hiring flagmen?
I know a bunch of people who'll line up to apply.
CSX is railroading Columbia County into paying an extra $284,000 toward the cost of adding a turning lane on Washington Road in front of the Goodwill store because, the railroad says, they'll need to post a full-time flagman at the nearby tracks during construction.
CSX can get away with this because part of the construction will take place on their right-of-way. Their land, their rules. And this isn't the first time Columbia County residents have been run over by the railroad.
Even before the flagman nonsense, county officials complained that CSX haggled and held up this project for months, resulting in God knows how many more rear-ender crashes on Washington Road. There just isn't enough room there to widen the road without touching CSX property, so the powerful railroad holds all the cards.
Last year, CSX pretty much stopped the county from extending the Evans-to-Locks Road bike path by refusing to allow it to cross their tracks without a half-million bucks in upgrades.
And now they're beating taxpayers out of $284,000 for the privilege of working alongside their sacred rail: $201,000 for the flagman, plus other costs associated with parking him on site.
Why? Well, a railroad official says the flagman's job will be to ensure the safety of trains passing through during construction, and of workers widening the road. He'll do that by signaling oncoming trains that there is construction in the area, and alerting crews or stopping work when a train comes (I guess their horns are broken?).
Bear in mind: None of the construction work will take place on the tracks. The work will be on the railroad right-of-way through which the tracks run, but never on the tracks themselves.
Practical guy that I am, I could save them some money. Here's what we'd do: I'd call a meeting of the construction crew and walk over to the rails. I'd say, "See those two metal things? Those are called 'tracks'. Trains use them. If a train comes through, that's where it will go. It won't swerve. So just stay away from the tracks, and everybody will be OK."
Sign me up, CSX.
Ten for the 10th
By the time the train rolled out of the station at noon Thursday, 10 candidates had signed up to run for the 10th District U.S. congressional seat left vacant with the death of Charlie Norwood.
That means the Georgia secretary of state's office took in $49,500 in filing fees at $4,950 a pop. Who the heck do they think they are, CSX?
While some of the candidates are hometown folks - from Evans attorney Evita Paschall (no relation; she spells her last name wrong) and ex-state Sen. Jim Whitehead of Evans - most of them are unknown locally. (A surprise absence: Terry Holley, of Grovetown, who didn't qualify.)
That's a bigger deal for them than us. Columbia County has the largest concentration of votes in the 10th District. The candidates' greatest challenge will be to connect with Columbia County voters.
Their first opportunity will be May 10 at the Liberty Park Community Center, in Grovetown. The Grovetown Merchants Association, led by its president, Sonny McDowell, has put together a "stump meeting" for all the candidates. They've asked me to be the moderator.
As soon as the candidates qualified earlier this week, McDowell started sending invitations.
Put it on your calendar. With nearly a dozen candidates on the list, and just a month to sort through them, we'll quickly need to determine who's the locomotive in this race - and who'll be riding in the caboose.
For the full list of qualifiers, go to http://www.sos.state.ga.us/elections/Qualifying_Candidates.htm
Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to barry.paschal at newstimesonline.com.
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