Town feels 'railroaded' at Waller Road
Being "railroaded" has taken on new meaning for New Milford officials.
Many are bristling over Housatonic Railroad's closing of the railway crossing along Waller Road in the Gaylordsville district of town.
Mayor Pat Murphy saved the moment: "You mean we've been railroaded, Walter."
Housatonic closed the crossing Aug. 21 after a large truck was reported to have been caught up on the tracks, in the process damaging them.
The state Department of Transportation granted an emergency closing of the crossing for track repair but Housatonic took it a step further, deciding to make the closing permanent.
The DOT gave the nod to Housatonic's decision.
"Our rail regulatory unit feels that there is a definable and unacceptable safety issue with this crossing," said Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman, "that warrants the current closure of the roadway.
"They see no other solution to assure the safety of vehicles and pedestrians," he said.
That said, the DOT has asked for a meeting as soon as possible among representatives from its rail regulatory unit, New Milford officials and Housatonic officials.
"We need to see that both the town's and the railroad's needs are met in an expedited fashion," Nursick said. "While there is a very real and significant safety issue there, the need for a turnaround and (fire suppression) water pipe has to be addressed."
Nursick said the cost will rest with Housatonic, with some money possible from the DOT.
Mike Zarba, New Milford's public works director, told the Town Council no police report had been filed regarding an incident at the crossing on the night Housatonic said the track had been damaged.
"We'd told Housatonic that we didn't want that road closed while the bridge on Riverview Road was being replaced, that if the crossing was closed, a turnaround had to be created at the Waller Road end and a pipe for water flow installed under the tracks," Zarba said. "None of that was done."
Richard Stalter, who lives along Waller Road, said he needs an oil delivery and there is nowhere for a large oil truck to turn around.
"What happens if we have a winter like last year?" asked Waller Road resident Susan Grisell. "Where will the town and private plow companies pile the snow?"
Zarba said he is lobbying as well on the town's part.
"Swales have been installed along the tracks there and regrading done of the bed," said councilman Frank Wargo. "Housatonic has usurped the parameters of an emergency closing."
Colin Pease, Housatonic's vice president of special projects, said the permanent closing is necessary but agrees a meeting could be helpful.
"I'd sent around a draft plan to everyone... for work going forward," Pease said. "This meeting is a way for us to come up with a plan that addresses everyone's needs."