LAKE PLACID — It has been a long time coming but the railroad crossing at Lake Drive East is being repaired. No more teeth jarring or undercarriage scraping and no more going airborne like the Dukes of Hazzard as vehicles traverse the railroad.
Construction began on Thursday and is slated to be wrapped up today, weather permitting. Motorists and especially parents that drive their children to and from work will be overjoyed on Monday.
The railroad crossing is on a highly traveled street with the middle, elementary and high schools some 300 feet to the west. Most of the town’s children walk to school and walk via sidewalk but the sidewalk stops on the north and south sides of the crossing. When students cross the tracks, there was 220 feet on the side of the road where there was no traffic control before getting to a sidewalk on the other side.
Town Administrator Phil Williams has been talking to property owners South Central Florida Express, Inc. since 2016 to get repairs done. In 2018, after traffic studies and loads of paperwork, the town partnered with SCFE and applied to the Florida Department of Transportation for a grant to help defer the cost of repairs. The grant was denied.
Many people were in agreement for the repair of the crossing and wanted the sidewalks to meet for the students’ safety. Highlands County Engineer Clinton Howerton and School Board of Highlands County Superintendent Brenda Longshore wrote letters of support for the grant.
The project contractor was R.W. Summers Railroad Contractor, Inc. Williams was unsure what the project ended up costing, but in 2018 there were two bids for the railroad crossing replacement. Excavation Point, Inc. came in at $26,757 and R.W. Summers Railroad Contractor at $82,472.
Williams will probably be relieved to see this project completed. He had a discussion with R.W. Summers Railroad Contractor Vice President Clint Lalla via emails that seem to assure Williams that the crossing would include a sidewalk “for the crossing length.” Lalla said the crossing would be 60 feet and should be enough room for a three feet utility strip and a five-foot sidewalk.
“As soon as the crossing is improved I intend to see what’s needed and follow up,” Williams promised. “Those are our children crossing there and that’s everyone’s responsibility.”