Fayette County has been granted permission to develop an “at grade” railroad crossing over US 729 into the county’s “Job Ready Site.”
The “Job Ready Site” is the term used by the Ohio Department of Development to describe an area of about 1,800 acres in Fayette County also referred to as the “mega-site.” Located at the U.S. 35 and I-71 interchange north of the Tanger Outlet Mall, the county has been prepping the mega-site for more than 10 years to make it attractive to industrial companies that might come to build factories and create jobs for the local economy.
The current railroad line in that area of the county abuts the northeastern side of the mega-site, according to documents, but does not provide access to the southern section of the mega-site. The proposed railroad line would cross “at grade” over US 729 and go about 200 feet into the mega-site. “At grade” means the railroad would cross the road at the same level as the highway, but according to Fayette County Assistant Prosecutor Dan Drake, the state only grants permission to do so under exceptional circumstances.
“ODOT insists that any railroad crossing a state route either be via an overpass or underpass, either of which alternatives would be prohibitively costly and for which funding would not be likely,” wrote Drake in an email to the Record-Herald. “The laws I cited above permit, under exceptional circumstances, the railroad owner to petition the court for authority to deviate from this strict rule and to construct a rail crossing at the same grade as the highway if specified conditions exist warranting the crossing ‘at grade,’ and if specified safety requirements are included in the construction.”
According to court documents, the Fayette County Commissioners filed a petition against the Ohio Department of Transportation in September to get permission to build the “at grade” over US 729 into the mega-site. Bluegrass Farms currently owns the land designated for the mega-site, which it now farms, and was involved in the petition for building the railroad crossing.
The petition was filed in the civil division of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas and a formal hearing was held Oct. 5 with Judge Steven Beathard.
“The hearing in front of Judge Beathard was for the purpose of demonstrating the state of Ohio and the county’s efforts to assemble this site, their substantial financial resources which have been contributed over the years to its development, and the necessity for the authority to construct the future crossing as requested. The county and Mr. Martin presented witnesses who testified to all these and other relevant matters, and the ODOT Director formally consented to the petition and endorsed the project through his legal counsel, the Assistant Ohio Attorney General – Chief of the Transportation Section. At the conclusion of the hearing Judge Beathard granted the petition and authorized the county and Bluegrass Farms to construct (at some undefined future date) the crossing at grade with all the safety requirements which are spelled out in his Entry,” said Drake.
In a commissioner’s meeting Aug. 8, 2016, Fayette County Commissioner Tony Anderson told the Record-Herald that the mega-site wasn’t up a par because unlike other comparable mega-sites in the country, Fayette County’s mega-site doesn’t have a railroad extension.
Hopeful the site will attract manufacturers to build plants in the area, Anderson said getting permission to extend the railroad into the mega-site was a top priority for the county, but according to Drake there is no timetable for construction.
“It is dependent on many factors including identifying future funding sources, and probably won’t be entertained unless and until a potential major industrial user expresses sincere interest in locating at the site. But, the county having the authority to construct the crossing at grade is an essential condition imposed by the state of Ohio for its continued assistance which will be crucial in the future development of the site,” said Drake.
In 2006, the Ohio Department of Development awarded the Fayette County mega-site, located in Jefferson and Jasper townships, an Ohio Job Ready Site grant in the amount of $4,352,468 to extend other services into the site, including sanitary sewer, water, natural gas, and electric lines.
Additional information, photos, and a video about the site can be viewed online at http://www.m2c2.biz/
Reach Ashley by phone at (740) 313-0355 or connect on Twitter by searching Twitter.com for @ashbunton