In an effort to reduce the number of railroad crossings in St. James, including some that are unsafe, representatives from BNSF Railway Co., MoDOT and the City of St. James met with the Phelps County Commission on Tuesday to seek its input on a joint initiative that includes potentially closing three of the five railroad crossings in St. James and outlying Phelps County.


In an effort to reduce the number of railroad crossings in St. James, including some that are unsafe, representatives from BNSF Railway Co., MoDOT and the City of St. James met with the Phelps County Commission on Tuesday to seek its input on a joint initiative that includes potentially closing three of the five railroad crossings in St. James and outlying Phelps County.


MoDOT Railroad Safety Specialist Don R. Schwartz explained that the sweetgum trees in St. James are partially responsible for the unsafe railroad crossings because they deposit a residue on the tracks that impede the sensors from activating the crossing arms when a train approaches.


Moreover, Schwartz explained, one of the approaches to railroad crossing in St. James has an unusual and unsafe, elevated grade.


In a discussion focused on possible remedies to the problems of unsafe railroad crossings, several ideas were tossed back and forth, including the possibilities of closing the Oak Street railroad crossing and rerouting the roadway to create a new crossing in a safer location, closing the Sports Club railroad crossing and closing the Catholic Cemetery railroad crossing.


Two of the five railroad crossings in St. James lie just east and west of the city, in Phelps County.


BNSF Railway Manager of Public Projects Bruce Chinn said the railway company has already agreed to fund part of the project, and he suggested that the railway may, perhaps, agree to pay for the construction of a sidewalk alongside the railroad tracks in St. James.


City of St. James Director of Community Development Candace Connell said she would put together an estimate of costs for the proposed addition of a sidewalk and fencing alongside the tracks.


The Phelps County Commission agreed to set up a joint workshop with representatives from St. James, MoDOT and BNSF Railway to discuss in greater detail the options available to alleviate the problems with the railroad crossings.


In other county government business, the Phelps County Commission also reviewed, and, or, approved the following items:


• The Commission apprised everyone attending the session that the Supervisor of Phelps County Roads Dale Winemiller was presently conducting on-site assessments with FEMA representatives, to document expenses the county incurred following the March floods.


• The Commission approved soliciting bids for heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) maintenance for the Phelps County Jail.  The solicitation will request a bid to establish rates for maintenance, upkeep and overtime rates, or weekend rates.


• The Commission also approved soliciting bids for scuba equipment for the Phelps County Sheriff’s Department.  The solicitation will request bids on three, underwater masks equipped with a communication system.


• The Commission approved the reappointment of Ron Calhoun and Jim Fels to the Phelps County On-Site Wastewater Treatment Systems Board of Review.  The new term of the appointments continue to March 12, 2011.


• The Commission reviewed a notice of recently appointed Phelps County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Jeffrey Walters.


• The Commission approved paying an invoice of $787 submitted by Thomas, Birdsong, Mills & McBride, a Rolla law firm, for special prosecutor services provided to the county for one case.


• The Commission apprised Rocco Burrell, co-owner of Burrell Construction Co., that if his company paves the road in a new housing development, a subdivision on Ridge Road and Private Drive 8012, and if it survives one year with no failures, the county would accept the road into its system and take over maintenance.
The Commission also apprised Burrell that a terminal-road would need to end with a circular cul-de-sac, as provided by county specifications.


• Phelps County resident Les Spencer, a property owner residing on County Road 3310, complained to the Commission that his prior requests for the county to pave his gravel road went unheeded.


Spencer argued that most of the traffic on his road was not from residents but from motorists utilizing a shortcut from Route BB to the other side of Route BB.
“Everybody in the county uses that road,” Spencer said.


Spencer cited the paving of Old St. James Road as an example of misplaced priorities in the county’s road-paving agenda.


“You spent $400,000 to pave Old St. James Road, and if you don’t do something out there to get the dust down, I’m going to do all I can to get you out of office in the fall,” Spencer said to Larry Stratman, commissioner District 1.


Stratman answered, “The road we did pave, the traffic count was more than three-times the traffic count on your road.”


Stratman said the most recent traffic count on County Road 3310 revealed that 140 cars-per-day traveled the road.


Spencer replied, “You need to count all 640 miles of Phelps County roads and pave the roads that have the most traffic.  Do what’s fair.


“I can’t afford $4-a-foot to pave my one-tenth of a mile on that road.  You pave those country club roads and all those millionaire homes and neglect mine,” Spencer charged the Commission.


Stratman said, “Once people paid for their roads to be paved, the county agreed to maintain them by putting overlays of chip and seal, and we’re making pretty good progress in keeping up with them.”


After the Commission session ended, Spencer said, “They could take that $400,000 they used to pave Old St. James Road and figure out how much more they could do with just using chip and seal — how many more gravel roads they could pave by not asphalting.”


• The Commission and Phelps County Clerk Carol Bennett discussed a request from the Missouri Naturalists to reserve the use of the courthouse’s multi-purpose room for 11 weeks of Thursdays beginning on Feb. 26.


As one of the rules for use of the multi-purpose room includes a provision to not allow for booking the room on a repeating basis, Phelps County officials declined the reservation.