Hickory officials approve grant proposal for crossing

By By Sheila Blackmon/The Meridian Star
April 4, 2001
HICKORY Town officials here took a step Tuesday toward upgrading a deadly downtown railroad crossing without the help of the Mississippi Department of Transportation.
Hickory Mayor Wayne Griffith said aldermen approved a Community Development Block Grant proposal which could fund improvements to the Smede Street crossing.
The federal funds are administered by Mississippi officials and classify as an emergency grant, he said.
The Smede Street crossing was the site of two fatality collisions in late 1999. Trinette Wilson died in November 1999 and Kirk Buntyn died less than two months later. Both died after their automobiles collided with Kansas City Southern freight trains.
The small community faced a third tragedy in February of this year. Sidney Wagner died when his tractor struck a Kansas City Southern freight train.
The crossing is not high enough on the priority list for MDOT to fund an upgrade.
Griffith said a grant writer in Jackson helped him complete the proposal. State officials will review it and decide whether to invite Hickory officials to complete a full application.
The maximum grant amount is $75,000, but Griffith said he doesn't know how much the Smede Street upgrade will cost.
Griffith said he wants the crossing equipped with lights and crossbars, but if "I can't get anything else, I want lights."
MDOT officials say union contracts require that railroad employees complete all crossing upgrades. Kansas City Southern officials didn't say their employees would not complete a partial upgrade, Griffith said, "but they didn't say they would either."
In the meantime, Griffith said he has written letters to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., U.S. Rep. Chip Pickering, R-Miss., and U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., asking for their help.
He said Lott is trying to get funding from the Federal Railroad Administration and Amtrak, but said the two bills may be the same.
If the bill doesn't pass, Griffith said the grant may be the town's only chance of upgrading the deadly crossing. He hopes a decision will be made in May, since the deadline to submit proposals is next week.
Sheila Blackmon is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail her at sblackmon@themeridianstar.com.

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