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Why Flowery Branch believes closing railroad crossings would ease traffic
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Traffic moves along Radford Road Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, at the railroad crossing in Flowery Branch. Flowery Branch is looking at closing a railroad crossing near downtown and approaching Hall County about closing another one.

Bill Stark “really didn’t want” a popular cut-through road running by the 67-home subdivision he’s developing off McEver Road.

That was something pushed by Flowery Branch, he said.

Now events may play out in Stark’s favor, as the South Hall city is approaching Hall County about possibly closing the Radford Road railroad crossing, which is between McEver Road and Atlanta Highway/Ga. 13 and is both in Flowery Branch and unincorporated Hall.

“That would alleviate traffic for me,” Stark said.

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A motorist crosses the railroad tracks along Radford Road in Flowery Branch Thursday, Aug. 16, 2018, at the railroad crossing in Flowery Branch. Flowery Branch is looking at closing a railroad crossing near downtown and approaching Hall County about closing another one.

The city also is looking to close the Chattahoochee Street crossing as part of an overall effort to improve traffic flow from one fast-growing side of town to another.

“If they’re wanting to force traffic to come through the downtown area, that’s what the closings would do, in my opinion,” said Harley Bagby, a longtime Flowery Branch resident.

He sees the Chattahoochee Street traffic firsthand as he works at Flowery Branch Mini-Storage just off the road.

In its history, Flowery Branch has had multiple crossings over the Norfolk Southern railroad, leading motorists from downtown to Atlanta Highway, a major traffic artery through town.

Today, there are three crossings — at Lights Ferry Road, Spring Street and Chattahoochee Street.

Lights Ferry Road has become the busiest of the three thanks to a 2016 city project that created a straight shot for motorists between McEver Road and Interstate 985. The project included a roundabout at Mitchell Street.

Norfolk Southern has said it has funding through the end of the year for a signal that would help guide trains to clear the Lights Ferry crossing. But reducing stops there might mean increasing them at crossings farther up the line, and the best candidates for that are at Spring, Chattahoochee and Radford, particularly the latter two.

“What we have found is that Spring and Chattahoochee aren’t efficiently doing anything (with traffic) and certainly aren’t doing anything if the train is parked there, anyway,” City Manager Bill Andrew has said.

Also, Police Chief David Spillers said, trucks traveling Chattahoochee Street occasionally get stuck as they climb a steep hill to Gainesville Street, “so we have to call a wrecker to come and get them out of the road.”

Radford Road is a designated truck route, but officials see more trucks using H.F. Reed Industrial Parkway as the new Exit 14 off I-985 is completed in the fall of 2019. It will direct motorists to H.F. Reed, which is north of Radford and has a bridge over the railroad.

Monique Turner, spokeswoman for SKF USA, which has a plant off McEver and Radford roads, is concerned about the city’s moves.

“Radford Road is the entrance of all truck traffic to our Flowery Branch facility, so any potential closing of the crossing would have a real impact on SKF,” she said in an email.

Bagby said he believes a bridge should be built over Radford Road. He’s skeptical that H.F. Reed would ease traffic on Radford when the new exit opens.

Andrew said last week he was working on setting up a meeting about Radford between the city, county and Norfolk Southern.

“I’ve gotten emails from people who are very concerned about closing any of the (crossings),” Hall County Commissioner Billy Powell said. “Nobody likes change.”

As for himself, “I’ve got to know more about (the issue) before I can make an intelligent decision one way or another.”

“This is obviously a very serious issue for the community, and a lot of people feel we need three crossings,” Andrew said during a discussion of the issue at the City Council meeting Thursday, Aug. 2.

Also, as part of helping traffic flow at the Lights Ferry crossing, the city is looking at making Railroad Avenue a one-way street between Lights Ferry and Main Street. Under the plan, motorists wouldn’t be able to travel Railroad Avenue from Main to Lights Ferry.

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