Fairburns asks for concessions from CSX

Mon, 06/11/2007 - 8:45am
By: Ben Nelms

CSX Railroad may get what it wants from Fairburn, but only if it makes good on issues that have plagued the city, and municipal neighbor Palmetto, for many years. Fairburn planning commissioners Tuesday tied their recommendation on the railroad’s expansion plans to a dozen conditions, including repairing and maintaining the three degraded and dangerous overpasses and consideration of establishing a “quiet zone” for the customary train whistles that blow throughout the downtown area in the dead of night.

The CSX conceptual site plan relating to phase two of the overall intermodal facility plan consists of 35 acres with approximately 29 acres of impervious area. The proposed expansion and improvements consist of a minor entrance and gate widening near the main facility entrance on the northeast corner of the property on McLarin Road. The request would lead to the replacement of 400 parking spaces for tractor-trailers with two additional processing tracks and the construction of 1,100 parking spaces, resulting in a net increase of 700 spaces, Fairburn Development Manager Gail Denman said. Additionally, CSX would construct a second track entering the facility from the northeast and northwest corners of the property to be connected into the existing storage tracks on the property south of the Georgia Power easement. The additional track will enable train traffic to arrive and depart and intermodal trains to be assembled in a manner which will significantly reduce blockages impacting traffic congestion and emergency response on McLarin Road, Gullat Road and Roosevelt Highway, she said.

Denman noted 12 suggested conditions for planning commissioners to consider with any recommendation of approval. Those conditions, with additions, were included in the vote to recommend approval. Two of those conditions struck an unmistakable chord with nearly all on the board. Those chords resonated with the substandard condition of the three railroad overpasses, the nighttime noise volume and duration of train whistles.

“Maybe you’ve been good neighbors in lots of ways, but you should be ashamed of the way the overpasses look,” said Commissioner Lawson Sayer.

Commissioner Dot Cochran agreed, saying, “The condition of the overpasses is alarming.”

Commissioners were quick to point out the safety hazards of the aging structures. The deteriorating condition of the three overpasses in Fairburn and two in Palmetto have long been considered a real problem. Constructed in 1917, the concrete overpasses are crumbling, with rebar exposed in some places. The increased height of today’s trucks has occasionally led to some drivers becoming struck and dislodging other sections of concrete. Fairburn’s potential leverage on having the concerns addressed comes from the annexation of the railroad’s intermodal facility into the city limits last fall.

CSX Director of Terminal Support Samuel Randolph told commissioners he understood the concern with the overpasses.

“The transportation side (of CSX) has earmarked resources to take care of the structural issues relating to the concrete and rebar. The funding has been set aside to address it,” Randolph said, also hearing from commissioners that a rendering of the work would expected prior to any work being done, as would the company’s agreement that the approval condition include ongoing maintenance.

Randolph essentially agreed with commissioner’s position that a plan be developed by CSX and reviewed by the city by December and that the project be completed by March 2008.

Another of the conditions required for approval of the site expansion project involved limiting excessive noise from train whistles between the hours of 11 p.m. through 6 a.m.

“With the (intermodal) expansion how will we enforce the noise issue? It wakes me up in the middle of the night almost every night now,” said Commissioner Carolyn Bradley. “This is noise pollution and it takes away from the peace in this community.”

Randolph explained the safety requirements associated with train whistles blowing at railroad cross streets. Commissioner Roger Johnson noted those requirements, adding that train whistles are sometimes blown throughout the city rather than only in proximity to crossing areas.

Those concerns led to a board recommendation that CSX consider working with city staff to establish a “quiet zone” in the downtown area.

The remaining 10 conditions accompanying the board’s recommendation for approval of the expansion project included items such as an agreement by CSX to assist with improvements necessary to upgrade and maintain the roads and intersections at Roosevelt Highway, Gullat Road, McLarin Road and Fairburn Industrial Loop Road to McLarin Road. Other conditions included the company’s assistance in fast-tracking the installation of the I-85/Gullat Road interchange, an education program to divert truck traffic only through particular routes to the intermodal, compliance with an existing ordinance prohibiting cross streets from being blocked more than five minutes, providing a vegetative landscape buffer adjacent to residential areas, compliance with applicable requirements for handling and transferring materials transported at the facility and the agreement to have all lighting directed away from residential areas.

Previously approved by Fulton County prior to last year’s annexation, the complete master plan calls for future intermodal development of another 75 acres on the 500-acre site and the eventual, though unspecified, development of the remaining 200 acres.

Fairburn City Council will address the CSX request at the June 11 meeting.

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