By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
STEVENSVILLE — People living along and near Defay Road appeared satisfied Wednesday night with plans to close the troubled road at the railroad crossing.
Nearly two dozen Lincoln Township residents, trustees and county road officials gathered at Township Hall to discuss proposed changes for Defay.
“I think the majority of residents want to have the whole thing paved with a new train crossing, but that’s just not going to happen. It’s not feasible with the funding they’ve got,” said Jeff Hemsath, who owns a duplex on Fredonia Circle and can only get to that street from Defay. “This is the best solution and it resolves both drainage and road issues.”
For more than a decade, the dirt road has annoyed residents. After each heavy rain, the water washes gravel downhill, forcing the Berrien County Road Commission to fill it back up and regrade it. A few residents who attended the meeting were unsatisfied with how long the road has been in this condition and voiced their concerns over when it would be fixed.
As part of an informational meeting, road officials spoke with residents about their plans to pave the road, close it to through traffic at the CSX Transportation grade crossing and create turnaround areas on both sides of the railroad tracks.
BCRC Managing Director Louis Csokasy provided a design for the proposed change to the road. After taking comments from residents, Csokasy said the project’s next step is to get funding.
“This was a good start. Our next step is looking for funding,” he said. “We will start looking for funding in every form we can find it. We are a non-tax authority, so we have to find funding through other resources.”
There was no time frame given for when the project would begin, as road officials have to wait until funding comes along.
The main problem for Defay is water management, Csokasy said. Because the gravel road has such a steep grade, erosion makes it difficult for motorists.
Csokasy said the road commission is considering closing the road on either side of the railroad crossing because it would be safer for oncoming traffic. By paving the gravel portion of Defay Road, the amount of traffic would increase at an unguarded railroad crossing that is at the bottom of a hill.
Defay’s traffic count is about 130 vehicles a day.
When asked if the railroad company can help fund the project, Csokasy said they normally don’t get involved because they are considered a federally regulated entity. Defay is a county road and would remain so after being closed off to the crossing.
“We have not approached the railroad, but any time you talk to the railroad about closing a road at a crossing they tend to be positive about it,” Csokasy said. “I think we have a good plan, I really do.”
The road commission has looked at several options, but chose to pave the road because the project would cost the least.
The proposed project would cost an estimated $83,000, Csokasy said. The alternate option of paving the entire road and installing a gate at the railroad crossing would cost $200,000. It would also add to what the county pays each year for maintenance.
Township Supervisor Dick Stauffer addressed residents’ concerns about access to the portion of Defay furthest from Red Arrow Highway.
“I’ve checked with fire, I’ve checked with the police, I’ve checked with Medic 1, and they all felt this can be easily managed and have no impact on safety whatsoever,” he said.
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 24, 2015)