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Stop signs coming down at old rail crossings
Railroad crossings in city to be paved; stop signs removed
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Those pesky stop signs at railroad crossings in Covington where the train no longer runs should be taken down within the next month or so.

First, the city of Covington will have to pave over the crossings. At Monday night’s council meeting, the Covington City Council unanimously approved signing an agreement with the Central of Georgia Railroad Company, a subsidiary of Norfolk Southern, to pave the 23 crossings in the city limits and remove any stop signs.

Once the tracks have been paved over, the city council will then vote to remove any or all of the 23 stop signs located at crossings. Any stop signs that are removed will have to be replaced with a "Tracks Out of Service" sign. Mayor Kim Carter said Monday that some stop signs might not be removed if they are needed for traffic calming. City Manager Steve Horton said he expected all of the work to be completed within 30 days.

Under the agreement, if Norfolk Southern ever needs to run trains on the track, the city will have to pay to remove the pavement from the tracks and replace the stop signs. The land where the track runs still belongs to Norfolk Southern. The city also assumes all liability for the intersections once they have been paved.

The 23 railroad crossings that will be paved over are located on the following roads:

1. Conyers Street
2. South Mill Street
3. Thompson Avenue
4. Butler Avenue
5. Floyd Street
6. Sockwell Avenue
7. Anderson Avenue
8. North East Street
9. Lyda Sue Lane
10. Elm Street
11. Pace Street
12. State Road 81/N. Emory Street
13. Spring Street
14. Robinson Street
15. West Street
16. Clark Street
17. Old Brown Bridge Road
18. Turner Lake Road
19. Lakeview Drive
20. State Road 81/Washington Street
21. State Road 12/U.S. Highway 278
22. Piper Street
23. Eagle Drive/Covington ByPass Road

Also Monday, the Covington council held a joint work session with the Newton County Board of Commissioners and Newton County Industrial Development Authority to discuss potential land acquisition and industrial development. All discussion took place in executive session.

Following the meeting, multiple officials said the elected bodies took a vote during executive session. This is usually illegal, but City Attorney Ed Crudup said later that there is an exception to state law, which allows elected bodies to vote in executive session. He said the land will not be purchased until the agreement is made public, and the minutes of the meeting would become public once a purchase agreement was reached.

In the court case Johnson v. Board of Commissioners of Bibb County, the Georgia Court of Appeals decided in Feb. 2010 that elected bodies were allowed to vote during an executive session concerning a real estate purchase.

Land acquisition discussions are routinely held in executive session, because a public discussion could hinder the government body's ability to negotiate a price and allow real estate speculators to drive up the price.

The council also on Monday approved the final reading of a request for nearly 160 acres of land along Ga. Highway 142 and Airport Road to be annexed into the city and rezoned heavy industrial. The vote was again 4-3, with Mayor Carter casting the tie-breaking vote.

Residents near the property had expressed opposition to the rezoning, as did council members Ocie Franklin, Janet Goodman and Hawnethia Williams.

The council tabled a vote at its Dec. 20 meeting because Councilman Keith Dalton was absent. Williams voted against tabling the motion and again expressed her opposition Monday, saying a vote should have been taken. The rezoning and annexation would likely have been voted down 3-2.