PUNXSUTAWNEY — A much-needed upgrade to the Horatio Street Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad crossing was approved by Punxsutawney Borough Council at Monday's voting meeting.
"PennDOT is filing an application with the PUC for the approval to upgrade the railroad flashing lights (currently there are none) and circuitry where Horatio Street Crosses, at grade, the single track owned by B&P Railroad," said Ben White, Punxsutawney Borough manager.
White said the funding comes from Section 130 Federal Rail Safety Program, which provides 100-percent federal funding for the construction of railroad warning devices on public roads.
"In order to qualify for these federal funds, the borough must agree to provide a local match of up to $6,500 for the design of the warning devices," White said, adding that B&P would be billing the borough directly for the design costs incurred, and any costs over $6,500 will be paid for by the railroad.
He said the railroad will then seek reimbursement through PennDOT for 100-percent reimbursement for the construction costs.
For the upgrade of the Pine Street crossing, PennDOT paid the local match, White said.
"I talked with Lawrence M. Cernansky, P.E. Design of Grade Crossings, and he said the same thing will probably happen for this project, but he wasn't sure at this time," he said.
Larry Chenoga, council president, said he drives Horatio Street a lot, and he thinks it's a very dangerous crossing.
"I'm surprised that no one has been killed there," Chenoga said. "For safety's sake, council needs to move forward with this project, because you can't put a price on someone's life."
Regarding Pine Street, Chenoga said council never saw any paperwork asking for payment regarding design of the crossing from PennDOT, so it must have been taken care of by them.
"I strongly recommend that we go ahead with this project, if for no other reason, than for safety," he said.
Eric Story, council member, said he is all for safety, but B&P Railroad is a multi-million dollar company, and there's no doubt that it receives grants for safety all the time from the federal government.
"My question is, 'Why should the borough tax payers be asked to put in $6,500 for design costs for a crossing that is on the railroad's property?'" Story asked. "I'm in favor of lights being put down there at the crossing."
Bill Spencer, council member, said the only thing that concerns him is that when council needs a right-of-way from the railroad for a borough construction project, it takes a while to get it.
"If we turn them down for something like upgrading the crossing, they might not give us the right-of-way when we ask for it," Spencer said.
Story said the letter from PennDOT said that the borough might be reimbursed for the design costs, but it also said it won't necessarily be reimbursed.
"Until PennDOT sends us a letter saying we are going to be reimbursed or reimbursed at a later time, I won't vote for it. However, I have no problem with the safety project," Story said, adding that he doesn't believe the taxpayers in Punxsutawney should have to pay for an upgrade of a railroad crossing that is on B&P's property.
Chenoga said the letter for the 2008 project on Pine Street from PennDOT is exactly the same as the letter for the Horatio Street project.
Story said until Chenoga shows him a letter from PennDOT that says the borough will be reimbursed, he wasn't going to vote in favor of it.
Council approved the motion 4-2 with Story and Toby Santik, council member, voting no and Chenoga, Mike Porada, vice president; and Spencer and Michele Lorenzo, council members, voting yes. Jaime Sherry was absent.
In other business at Monday’s meeting:
• White said that the borough is waiting for a response from PennDOT regarding the proposed sewer line changes submitted by Palo Construction on the sanitary sewer line and manholes on the Route 119 Bridge Replacement that spans over the Elk Run Creek.
“The major work on the bridge and the detour will not begin until June,” White said, adding that Palo is considering doing part of the sewer line relocation in April or May ahead of time of the actual bridge construction using temporary bypasses which would involve a one lane traffic restriction for short periods of time.
• White said regarding the FEMA Levee Certification, that it was submitted to FEMA on Dec. 20, 2012 and was received by FEMA on Dec. 21.
There has been no other contact from them that the borough is aware of, he said.