Forsyth decided on Monday to go to court to try to stop Georgia Department of Transportation (DOT) from closing the railroad crossing at Indian Springs Drive. Of immediate importance, Forsyth is asking the court to order the closure delayed until it can make a ruling on the appeal.
Forsyth will file a motion in Monroe County Superior Court for judicial review of DOT’s intent to close the Indian Springs Drive crossing. Mayor Eric Wilson said this seems the way to try to keep the crossing open and that city attorney Bobby Melton has the paperwork ready to file. A Superior Court judge from the Towaliga district would hear the case.
Council member Chris Hewett made the motion to file for judicial review after a 30-minute closed door session on June 17. Council voted unanimously for the motion. Council member Julius Stroud asked Melton to update council on the railroad crossing during open session, and Melton said discussion was planned for a closed session.
DOT ordered closure of the Indian Springs Drive crossing in a letter to Forsyth on June 5 in spite of the city’s earlier decision that it would be in the best interest of the city and its citizens to keep the crossing open. Norfolk Southern Railroad came to Forsyth last fall offering nearly $1 million for safety and smoother roads at Forsyth’s Lee Street and Tift College Drive crossings if the city would close crossings at Main Street and Indian Springs Drive. These are the only four crossings in the city limits.
After hearing objections from citizens and businesses, Forsyth council voted to forego the money and keep the closings open. Norfolk Southern and DOT would not consider opening any crossings elsewhere in exchange for closing the Indian Springs Drive crossing, including re-opening any crossings previously closed. Council discussed what it could do on its own to add safety features at the crossings and asked Norfolk Southern and DOT if they could provide any assistance or grants.
A DOT representative returned to Forsyth council on Jan. 22 for a public hearing on closing only the Indian Springs Drive crossing, leaving the other three crossings open and giving the city a lesser amount of money for safety improvements at the remaining crossings. Again members of the public who spoke were against closing the Indian Springs Drive crossing. The city gave Norfolk Southern its decision not to close the crossing on Feb. 5
Norfolk Southern appealed the decision to DOT, which sent a contractor to evaluate the crossing in May and then informed Forsyth a little over three weeks later that the crossing would be closed and that the city should post signs telling the public of the closure, which would take place 30 days after signs went up.
Melton said Forsyth is appealing DOT’s decision to close the Indian Springs Drive crossing because it was arbitrary and did not take input from either citizens or mayor and council into consideration. He said it used a check list about the features of the crossing and use of it but did not consider the needs and desire for the crossing brought out by citizens. Melton noted that no one from Norfolk Southern attended the public hearing in January.
Forsyth contends in its appeal that DOT and Norfolk Southern met the technical requirements of holding a public hearing but ignored all of the input. Melton thinks DOT must show it considered the objections of the city and citizens in its ruling to close the crossing.
The closest alternative crossing to Indian Springs Drive is at Mize Street at Indian Springs Drive. It is not in the city limits at this time but is in an area that the city hopes to annex in the future. Reportedly there are as many or more safety concerns at the Mize Street crossing than at the Indian Springs Drive crossing, especially if it has to take on most of the traffic that previously used the other crossing. Traffic and congestion would also increase at the Lee Street crossing.
Norfolk Southern and DOT are no longer offering Forsyth any assistance in making crossings safer.