Feds announce $17.6M grant to cut down on railroad crossing headaches

FRA allocates millions to improve Jacksonville's railways, cut down on delays

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The federal government is moving along with plans to cut down on the commute for many Jacksonville drivers.

U.S. Department of Transportation officials announced Wednesday that a grant has been given to Jacksonville-area railroad operators to improve the infrastructure, hopefully alleviating situations in which people are stuck behind trains for long periods of time. It’s part of a $326 million nationwide plan called the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

Among the worst areas in the River City are San Marco and Baldwin.

Residents and workers in both areas said they have been plagued with problems for years as freight trains crisscross daily, often stopping on the tracks. In some cases, the delays have been for several hours.

It’s affecting Steven Hubbard’s new business, Body Lab Food + Fitness on Hendricks Avenue. He opened the gym and nutrition center about two months ago.

“Am I scared of the train? No. Is it an interesting characteristic you have as part of our business? Yes,” he said.

Hubbard said the trains can get in the way of his training. However, having dozens of vehicles stopped in front of his business instead of passing by at the speed limit increases brand recognition. 

“With the train jacking everything up sometimes, you could be stuck in traffic for up to 30 minutes and miss your class all together,” he said. “So the train does add a little bit of a headache.”

But relief is on the horizon, according to the federal government.

“It’s good news for Jacksonville all the way around,” Federal Railroad Administrator Ron Batory told the News4Jax I-TEAM.

He said the federal government has allotted a $17.6 million grant to fix some of the problems in Duval County.

“We have heard horror stories about blockages as much as three hours,” he said, acknowledging a history of issues.

But how? The railroad companies will work to improve two main rail yards, which are essentially hubs for engines and cars to connect, switch directions and change loads.

Teaming up with the train companies, they’ll add more tracks, new technology and better switches. 

The train companies and the Florida Department of Transportation will chip in the other half of the funding needed for the project, which should start in about a year. 

Batory said this will help with seven of the most troubled crossings, including the ones in San Marco and Baldwin. He said the upgrades would be mainly in rail yards so the work would have little to no effect on traffic.

It’s good news for those who live and work in the areas, hoping for a little less time behind the wheel.

“Let’s do it,” Hubbard said.

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