Stop signs are necessary to keep drivers safe, but when those stop signs are located at railroad crossings that haven’t seen a train pass by for around a year, they turn into a nuisance for some drivers.
"Why are there stop signs and "stop-look-listen" signs at the crossings on that section when the rails are broken in places and there can be no rail traffic?" Covington resident Sandy Brown asked. "I note that many readers have "vented" about the traffic tie-ups these useless stop signs create, but nowhere have I seen an official response."
Anderson Avenue, the Bypass Road and Spring Street are just a few of the streets in Covington that require divers to stop before crossing the tracks.
"The ByPass Road is the worst example. Whose job is it to remove the stop signs?" resident Don Barnard asked.
County Chairman Kathy Morgan said the signs must remain up until Norfolk Southern either officially abandons the rail line or discontinues service, because of legal and liability concerns.
"The information I was given by (the Georgia Department of Transportation) stated that the federal guidelines only allowed you to remove the stop signs when the rail road was abandoned; remember — do not confuse abandonment with discontinuation of service. I think there are some considerations with discontinuation of service, but the county assumes all liability should an incident occur, and a sign must be posted indicating risk exposure," Morgan said in an e-mail.
"I think if the rails are taken out as part of the discontinuation of service, we are still required to post a sign. I am trying to verify that process."
Morgan said abandonment is a lengthy and expensive process, so Norfolk Southern may chose to discontinue service instead. Newborn Mayor Roger Sheridan, who has been negotiating with Norfolk Southern, said the discontinuance process could be completed in September.
Once the railroad is discontinued, Morgan said the county might be able to apply to have the signs removed. If that is possible, the county would have to fill out an application for each crossing, have the site reviewed and receive permission from GDOT to remove the stop sign, she said. Even if the railroad makes an official decision regarding the future of the line, there are other questions.
"If we remove the sign and someone drives over the crossing at too high a speed, damaging their vehicle, will we have a liability? If someone is hurt because of a crossing, what is our liability? Are the notices required to be posted more distractive than a stop sign? Can we raise the crossings to road grades? If so, who has authority to approve, county, GDOT, (Federal Service Transportation Board)?," Morgan asked. "These are just a few of the questions that I must consider before making a final decision. It seems to be a simple question, but it is really very complicated."
The city of Covington has also been in contact with GDOT about possibly removing the signs. Transportation Manager Billy Skinner echoed previous sentiments, saying the signs won’t come up unless railroad service is officially discontinued. He said if signs were removed, the city would possibly replace them with an out-of-service notice sign.