Winter Park looking to FDOT to improve bumpy rail crossings

Motorists are increasingly complaining about some of the aging rail crossings in Winter Park.

The arrival of SunRail has been hailed by Winter Park’s businesses and political leaders as a real boon to the city’s economy, bringing newcomers to the city and making the Winter Park train station the number one stop along the route.

What’s becoming less popular, City Commissioner Tom McMacken noted, is the poor condition of some of the railroad crossings that local motorists cross on a regular basis.

In fact, McMacken noted at Monday’s city commission meeting, when he goes out to meet constituents, it’s one of the top issues that keeps coming up – repeatedly, he said.

During Monday’s city commission meeting, McMacken raised the issue with City Manager Randy Knight.

“I had a chance to go to some neighborhood meetings, and outside of the density issue, one question that kept coming up was about our railroad crossings,” McMacken said.

In particular, constituents keep asking, why are they so poorly maintained.

Knight said he’s all too familiar with the issue.

“We have two (crossings) that we get a lot of complaints about, and one of them is at Pennsylvania and Webster (avenues),” Knight said.

The city manager noted that he’s forwarded these complaints to the Florida Department of Transportation, which operates the SunRail commuter rail line that runs from DeBary down to four stops in downtown Orlando

FDOT is now planning for future upgrades to those crossings, Knight said.

“They assured us they would come back and make them smooth again,” Knight said.

Troy Attaway, Winter Park’s public works director, said he’s also been collecting evidence of the problems at some of the city’s railroad crossings, including the one at Pennsylvania Avenue and Holt Avenue, which has also generated plenty of complaints from motorists.

When they learn one of the crossings needs an upgrade, Attaway said, the Public Works Department forwards that information to FDOT.

“We’ve been trying to keep our crossings in the forefront of their minds,” he said.

The good news, Attaway said, is that FDOT is promising some quick short-term fixes that will eventually lead to more serious repair work down the road.

“They committed to fixing two more – not permanently, but they will go in and repair the wood at the crossings,” Attaway said. “We’re starting to see some improvement. At this time, they are just asphalt fixes.”

City Commissioner Steve Leary said FDOT also needs to look at another problematic rail crossing, at New York Avenue and Lyman Avenue. Leary noted that when the rail bar goes up and the flashing red signals shut off, that crossing turns into a frantic rush of cars.

“When those gates go up, it’s an absolute free for all,” Leary said. “There’s got to be something we can do to at least remind people to look both ways.”

FDOT is aware of that intersection as well, Attaway said.

“They have taken a look at that intersection and agreed it’s pretty crazy, and they have a preliminary plan to deal with it,” Attaway said. “One of the reasons why it is that way is because that intersection is so large. This project will tighten up that intersection.”

SunRail began operating on May 1. The train route includes stops in Winter Park, Maitland and at Florida Hospital in Orlando.

 

mwfreeman@sun-sentinel.com or 407-420-5290