Councilman George Lawrence argued Tuesday that the Main Street railroad crossing needs to be fixed before the city does anything about closing other crossings.
The other councilmembers disagreed and voted 4-1 to approve a list of six recommended crossings to CSX for closure.
“We know 29 crossings is too many crossings for Biloxi,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich. “We had a tragedy,” he said, referring to the March 7 accident when a tour bus became stuck on the tracks at the Main Street crossing and was hit by a train, killing four people from Texas.
Gilich said the city will be in a better position to get CSX to fix crossings if it agrees to close others. Biloxi also wants to open two new crossings for an extension of a Popp’s Ferry Road and to complete the loop around East Biloxi. To do that, the city will have to close at least six crossings, he said.
Chief Administrative Officer Mike Leonard and Gilich said they chose seven crossings in East Biloxi because they are the closest together, the most dangerous and easiest to close. They include Nixon, Holley, Iroquois, Dorries, Delaney streets and Querens and Keller avenues.
Councilman Felix Gines asked the council to take Keller Avenue off the list since it goes to U.S. 90.
That leaves five of the six proposed to close in his ward, said Lawrence, who represents Ward 1.
“Nobody said anything about Main Street,” said Lawrence, who complained that Biloxi isn’t paying attention to the real problem and asked why it isn’t on the list.
“My quick answer is because it’s Main Street,” Leonard said. The proposal to CSX also includes the necessary upgrades to that crossing, he said.
Under the proposal, CSX and the Mississippi Department of Transportation would help the city construct new streets parallel to the railway, and no crossing would close until new access roads are completed, he said.
Leonard said CSX told him the stretch of track in Biloxi is one of the most dangerous in the area. Four of the six crossings have no warning lights or gate.
He also considered putting McDonnell Avenue on the list because it doesn’t have crossing lights, but it is used extensively by school buses and fire trucks and is the only access to a housing complex. Councilman Robert Deming pointed out that is another hazard that needs immediate attention.
If approved, the crossings won’t close all at once. Leonard said he expects it will take at least a year before the access roads are improved with new lights, curbs and paving, he said, and longer to close Querens because property will have to be acquired.