The Georgia Department of Transportation calls the Tumbling Circle railroad crossing near Old Oakwood Road in Gainesville one of the most dangerous intersections in the state and has recommended closing it.
According to county officials, five fatalities and nine accidents involving collisions between automobiles and trains have occurred at the crossing over the last decade. Just last year, a car was hit by an Amtrak train, though the motorist suffered only minor injuries. It is estimated that more than 400 car trips per day are made across the railroad tracks.
Because of these safety concerns, the county had considered closing 1,786 feet of right of way and turning the road into a cul-de-sac while it looked for funding to build a bridge spanning the railroad tracks.
But on Monday, the Hall County Board of Commissioners agreed not to close the crossing and scrapped plans to hold a public hearing on the matter later this week.
Officials expressed skepticism about the severity of danger facing motorists who used Tumbling Circle as a connector to other parts of the county.
“Unless they’re playing chicken with the train,” the danger is not imminent, said Commissioner Craig Lutz.
Tumbling Circle can be used as a westward cut-through from Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway to Old Oakwood Road, which then leads to Mundy Mill Road to the south and Mountain View Road to the north.
Heading in the opposite direction, Tumbling Circle acts as an access point to exit 17 off Interstate 985.
The board said it would like to continue exploring funding options for a bridge, but cautioned that the expense must be shared by other entities, such as the city of Gainesville, DOT and Norfolk Southern Railway. Public Works Director Ken Rearden pegged the cost of the bridge at about $3.5 million.
“I’m pretty sure we don’t have an additional $3.5 million,” said Commissioner Billy Powell.
Commissioner Scott Gibbs said the county would not move forward without funding assurances from DOT.
“If it’s so important ... they ought to pay for it,” he said. “You can’t do everything for everybody.”