UTICA — The congestion on the north end of the village of Utica, in the area of New Street, North Washington Street and Crestview Drive, has increased over the past few years since the railway crossing closed two years ago. Some of the residents feel the closing affected the traffic flow to and from the ballpark, thus posing a danger to children in the neighborhood and inconvenience to the businesses on New Street.
Mike and Dottie Kiger have lived on New Street for 24 years, and also have an engine repair business at their home.
At the time the crossing closed, the Kigers were in Tennessee and didn’t find out it would be closed until they returned to Utica. Dottie said she immediately called the railroad and the village of Utica to see if it could be opened, but nothing was done.
“So I thought it was too late, nothing could be done, but then after two busy seasons and all [the activity at the park], I just got fed up,” said Dottie.
For two years, Dottie said she’s been gritting her teeth, and something needs to be done.
“We want to see what we can do to get that reopened. It’s not an alley; I wouldn’t say it’s a main street in the community, but I think it’s a very vital street in the community, not only from the standpoint of our customers but the neighborhood in general,” said Dottie.
The closing also caused hardship for their family business when the direct access from Ohio 13 was blocked. During the time of the crossing closure, the Kigers’ business went from part-time to full-time. That has increased the amount of traffic and it became difficult for customers to gain access to their establishment.
“My husband use to be in the shop three days a week; now he is in the shop six days a week. ... And that is why it has gotten worse over the last couple of years and more difficult to deal with because the increase in our traffic as well,” said Dottie.
Resident Theresa Roy lives on the corner of North Washington Street and New Street, and said she has seen problems as well.
Roy said speeding is another issue. She said the speeding often occurs in the afternoon, which is also the same time children are outside playing.
“At the three houses at that intersection, there are seven kids under the age of 7 and one of them even has a hearing problem,” she said, adding that with the amount of congestion and speeding, the street traffic poses a serious threat to the children.
At the time of the closing, the railroad crossing was owned by the Central Ohio Railroad. Now it is owned by the Ohio Railroad Commission, under the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Central Ohio Railroad worked with the department of transportation to update the rail lines through grants received, Utica Mayor Larry Friesel explained.
“[The railroad] came to Utica and to every community involved [with the upgrades], and then the Knox and Licking county commissioners came to us and asked if they could possibly close some crossings. One of the ones they asked us to close was the New Street crossing,” he said.
Friesel is unsure the exact date it was asked that the crossing be closed; however, the issue was discussed at village council meetings and addressed in a public hearing.
“[The hearing] was advertised six weeks ahead of time and all the railroad company was here to answer questions, [but] there were no citizens here,” he said. “Our only response was from a lady who sent in a letter, and we did read that letter to the council members, [but] it didn’t look like there was a major objection to closing. So the council voted to close it.”
Because the entrance was difficult to use, most spectators who visit the ballpark only sporadically used the crossing entrance.
“It was a real steep crossing, so [not many] went there, but there were some. Usually you had to have a truck to get across there, and it didn’t affect the public safety because the squad and fire department couldn’t go that way,” said Friesel.
He said that since the crossing’s closing, several families moved into the neighborhood with children. A portion of the road was gravel, but recently the street was paved by the village.
“I understand their concern and I wish they were at the public hearing, for it might not have been closed. But the reason for closing it was [the railroad] was trying to keep the line open into Knox County,” said Friesel.
The mayor said he is confident something can be done to help improve the situation, and plans on meeting with residents on July 6 at the Village’s Street Committee meeting to discuss what can be done.
Calls to the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio were not returned.