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Hall County not ready to forsake Tumbling Circle railroad crossing
County officials believe costs, not safety, drives DOT's effort
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The Hall County Board of Commissioners has again postponed a decision on whether to spend up to $20,000 to repair a tennis court at the Village at Deaton Creek.

County officials said they want to do more tests to determine why the court is cracking so badly while seven others are not.

Residents have said they believe repeated cracking of the court is the result of sewer lines having been laid beneath it several years ago.

Officials have said they are willing to pay up but want this to be the last time.

The county has spent tens of thousands of dollars already trying to find a permanent fix for the court.

Commissioners will likely vote on the matter at a Dec. 11 meeting.

The board will also likely approve changes to the county’s malt beverage and wine ordinance next month when it meets.

The changes include prorating new alcohol license applications, adding definitions to allow for the sale of growlers (draft beer to go) and establishing an all-inclusive fee for farm winery licensing.

Joshua Silavent

The Hall County Board of Commissioners wants answers from the Georgia Department of Transportation and state lawmakers about why the Tumbling Circle railroad crossing has been closed despite the county’s objection.

“I think the taxpayers of this county deserve an answer from the (Hall County state legislative) delegation and the state because ... they’ve invested tax dollars in this crossing” for decades, Commissioner Scott Gibbs said.

Hall County officials have declined to close the crossing on two occasions.

But the DOT ordered the crossing closed in September after Norfolk Southern Railway petitioned the agency.

State transportation and railway officials have said it is in the interest of public safety to shutter the crossing permanently.

Barricades were erected at the crossing last month and the grading was later torn up. Guardrails are now installed at the site blocking access across the railroad tracks in either direction.

Tumbling Circle was formerly 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.

According to accident reports from the Federal Railroad Administration, nine car-train accidents have occurred at the crossing since December 1997.

The reports indicate six motorists were injured in these accidents, but there were no fatalities.

An investigation by The Times published Nov. 9 revealed a pattern of misreporting data by state and federal authorities concerning the crossing.

For example, the DOT incorrectly stated in a 2013 document that five deaths had occurred at the crossing as a result of collisions between cars and trains.

DOT officials said they have corrected the record and did not use the faulty data when determining whether to close the crossing.

And a report from the Federal Railroad Administration incorrectly shows active warning devices were placed at the Tumbling Circle crossing in February 2010.

County officials said closing the crossing is not being done in the interests of public safety.

An analysis by The Times found there have been nine deaths at six other similar railroad crossings in Hall County over the last few decades.

County officials, instead, said financial considerations are the real motivation. According to DOT officials, active warning devices can cost in excess of $250,000 to install at railroad crossings.

And maintenance of these devices falls on the railroad company.

Commissioner Billy Powell said the crossing has been “inappropriately” closed.

And Commissioner Craig Lutz said the DOT owes the county a “more thoughtful and detailed answer” to justify closing the crossing in light of the misreported data.

County officials said they want to keep Tumbling Circle open and, ideally, build a bridge over the tracks because the road could become a major artery in the coming years as new development takes shape.

Officials said they will continue to resist a proposal to abandon the Tumbling Circle right-of-way and will formally vote against doing so Dec. 11 when they meet.

Officials said they will address a letter expressing their concerns to state lawmakers representing Hall County, as well as Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle and Gov. Nathan Deal.

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