Amid an impasse

Mike Tony | Herald-Standard

Talks between Uniontown city officials and Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company still haven’t yielded an agreement as to which party or parties are responsible for removing rail crossings that have become a safety concern for city officials and subsequent pavement restoration work.

Uniontown city officials and Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company representatives still aren’t seeing eye to eye about who should be responsible for removing rail crossings that have become a safety concern for city officials and subsequent pavement restoration work.

City solicitor Tim Witt said at Uniontown City Council’s most recent meeting that both sides have requested a hearing before the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) on the issue.

“They’ve not quite agreed with the city’s position as of yet,” Witt said.

The PUC told the city and railroad company in July that it would move to schedule a hearing to determine which party or parties would be responsible for the restoration work if no progress toward an agreement was made by Sept. 1.

“Naturally, the city wants to look out for the taxpayers so we’re not the ones footing the bill for the work the railroad should be responsible for,” Witt said. “We are taking that very seriously and looking into that and making sure that the city’s interests, and therefore the residents’ interests, are protected as well.”

Witt said in July that removal would likely cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Legal counsel for Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company could not be reached for comment.

Uniontown City Council and the city’s public works director complained at a council meeting earlier this year about the railroad company’s lack of action regarding the abandoned rail line along Beeson Avenue.

After Phil Mahoney, city public works director, reported to council in January that Beeson Avenue was “falling apart” and recalled fruitless meetings with Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company and the PUC about the issue, council voted 4-0 to initiate contact with the railroad company.

Richard R. Wilson, an attorney for Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company, reported in a September 2017 notice to the Surface Transportation Board that it had formally consummated the abandonment of its rail line within Uniontown’s city limits.

In November, the PUC asked the railroad company to make immediate repairs to the abandoned rail line to alleviate the city’s concerns about the safety of the rail crossing surface along Beeson Avenue.

The bituminous paving along the remaining rails is breaking apart and forming potholes which are creating safety issues for both motorists and pedestrians, the PUC noted, adding the city had asked the PUC to direct Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company to make short-term repairs, and to ensure that the former crossings be properly abolished in accordance with a state statute.

The railroad company in April applied to PUC for approval to abolish eight rail at-grade crossings along the industrial track on East Penn, East Peter, East Main, East South, East Church, East Fayette and Dunbar streets as well as Pennsylvania Avenue.

That’s the same path that city officials would like Uniontown’s long awaited portion of the Sheepskin Trail to follow.

K2 Engineering project manager Brian Lake noted at a Uniontown Redevelopment Authority meeting earlier this year that the trail could follow an abandoned rail line behind Grindle Station onto Beeson Avenue, behind Auto Land Hyundai of Uniontown, shoot past the Uniontown Volunteer Firemen’s Social Hall on Dunbar Street and later to the old O.C. Cluss Lumber warehouse on Pennsylvania Avenue near the South Union Township border.

But forging that optimal route would require acquiring the right of way from the Southwest Pennsylvania Railroad Company.

In other city infrastructural news, K2 Engineering, the city’s engineering firm, is working on several projects aimed at eventually lessening Uniontown’s flooding vulnerability.

One project is a design for a storm catch basin off Union Street that Lake said would be submitted to the city within the next several weeks. Mahoney previously reported to council that Union Street got hit especially hard by flash flooding that devastated parts of Uniontown and South Union Township on July 21.

Another project is a Hydrologic Engineering Center River Analysis System (HEC-RAS) study of Redstone Creek and Coal Lick Run within the city limits to determine trouble areas in those waterways.

Powered by a $162,000 state Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) grant awarded in Nov. 2017, the study is nearly finished and will show “what areas to fix” within those waterways, Lake said, adding that the next step would be to get the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to approve a scope of remedial work.

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