Staff Writer: Maleah Funderburk
The low-clearance train crossing at North Main Street that has produced
two major accidents and significant power outages at Wingate University
this semester will be fixed within the next 12-18 months after a recent
special meeting of the Wingate Board of Commissioners produced an
agreement between the town and the North Carolina Department of
NCDOT officials Brett Canipe (roads) and Jahmal Pullen (rails) brokered
the deal at the March 8 meeting with Mayor Gary Hamill, Town Manager
Brad Sellers and commissioners John Magnum and Peggy Taylor.
They agreed on a $1.1 million project that will elevate and smooth out the
crossing and alleviate the recurring issues tractor-trailer drivers are
experiencing by getting stuck on the “hump” there while making their way
over the rails.
The resolution was officially approved at the Board of Commissioners’
regular meeting on March 21. A public hearing has been set for 6 p.m. on
April 18 at the Wingate Government Center for town residents to express
any concerns regarding a recommended road closure for North Stewart
Street from U.S. Highway 74 to West Wilson Street while the improvements
are being made.
After the required public hearing, a decision can be made by the board to
close a crossing, which will release federal monies and matching funds from
CSX Railroad to pay for the project. CSX typically supports the
consolidation of problem crossings by offering incentives under its Hazard
Canipe and Pullen explained at the meeting that the NCDOT attributes the
recent problems to elevation changes at the crossing caused by
maintenance work coupled with an increase in commercial truck traffic
through town via Wingate’s exit off the five-year-old Monroe Expressway
Pullen indicated that to make the necessary improvements, North Main
Street on either side of the tracks will need to be raised along with replacing
the the rail-signal equipment there. Pullen said the goal is to flatten and
smooth out the crossings so trucks will no longer get stuck there, adding
that Wingate could also benefit aesthetically by the addition of more
lighting and sidewalks to connecting roads.
“When we remove a crossing, it eliminates an accident ever being there ever
again,” Pullen said. “But it also allows us to do work on the sites where
we’re pushing that traffic to.”
Wingate University students may have noticed a significant increase in the
last few weeks of “Low Clearance Ahead” traffic signs all along North Main
Street once you get off the bypass exit for Austin Chaney Road. The NCDOT
also brought in a large mobile digital warning sign that has been placed at
the East Elm Street intersection across from the Neu Building. Hamill said
during the special meeting that it was important to implement those short-
term solutions with the NCDOT as quickly as possible “while we work our
way through this.”
“It may not stop [commercial trucks] from coming down Main Street but at
least it’s a conscience effort to stop them,” Hamill said.
Over the past three years, there have been at least 20 incidents of trucks
getting stuck on the crossing, according to Wingate town leaders. Bivens
Street, Main Street and Stewart Road are most prone to these accidents.
The current plan discussed would repave and widen the crossings at Bivens
and Main, rerouting trucks to avoid the construction.
According to Town Manager Brad Sellers, the recent Ohio train derailments
were a catalyst that prompted leaders to quickly implement a plan.
“I’ve been watching that East Palestine over and over, and I can just
envision that happening in Wingate,” Sellers said. “This is my home. This is
where we work and play. We can’t take that risk; we won’t take that risk.”