Your opinion: Oct. 29, 2016

Published 1:00 pm Monday, October 31, 2016

Time is now to find right solution
Within the past few months I have noticed Land Surveyors working along South Lee Street in the vicinity of the bridge over the Heart of Georgia Railroad. The Georgia DOT has been surveying the bridge and its street approaches in order to prepare an engineering design to replace the bridge. With the apparent support of the City and County, the goal is to raise the bridge and South Lee Street approaches at least five to six feet higher than what the street is now. The goal is to raise the bridge so that the railroad can accommodate taller railcars than what it can presently move under the bridge.
When I was on the City Council, the issue of raising this bridge came up. At that time I made a private surveying study to see what the situation actually was and what solutions might be best from a realistic standpoint. It is obvious that the bridge must be raised or the railroad tracks must be lowered in order for Heart of Georgia to move the taller railcars. At that time, it was said that the bridge had to be raised because the tracks could not be lowered due to storm water drainage.
I determined that this was not entirely true. A proper engineering study would show that the tracks could be lowered and the water drainage could be handled. Even with the curve in the railroad line located east of the bridge, the tracks could possibly be lowered. The study would determine the most feasible method of storm water drainage by using a combination of gravity flow and/or pumps to remove the water.
The engineering study would compare the costs of lowering the tracks against the costs of replacing the bridge and elevating the street. The new elevations of the approaches to the bridge would most likely begin in the Taylor Street area to the north and around College Street to the south. One would be looking down into the yards of the houses and Calvary Episcopal Church along South Lee Street as you came up to the new bridge.
The economy is much different now than what it was when I was on City Council. Beginning in the Preston and central Webster County area, the railroad tracks are no longer used. In fact, the tracks are overgrown with dense vegetation and trees from that area to the Chattahoochee River. This is not an isolated situation. The Georgia Southwestern Railroad once operated on leased lines from Norfolk Southern from Americus to Cusseta. This line has not been used in over five years and it is also overgrown with trees from just north of Americus to Cusseta. This railroad company operated here just previous to the Heart of Georgia Railroad and is no longer in business.
It seems to me that the Americus City Council and the Sumter County Board of Commissioners could join together with the Heart of Georgia Railroad in determining if a better and more practical solution can be found. Using the excuse that our hands are tried because South Lee Street is also part of a state highway just does not fly and is a poor reason to do nothing. Our State Representatives and Senators are in office for a reason and this is also an election year.
I am sympathetic to the needs of the local railroad. Hopefully, the future will be one of economic recovery and the Heart of Georgia will have more rail traffic than it dreamed of. Americus and Sumter County have always had a railroad presence and there is no reason for that to not exist. I imagine and hope that the Rail/Truck Modal Center in Crisp County will enhance the business prospects. But realistically, now is the time to determine the best solution for this situation since the economy is unfortunately still down in our area and rail traffic is not that frequent.
James R. Littlefield
Land surveyor and civil engineer
Former Americus City Councilman