Railroad crossing called hazard

Published in the Asbury Park Press 1/31/03

TOMS RIVER -- Each day, 185 school buses from the Toms River Regional school system stop at least 500 times at railroad tracks that stretch across Route 37, just west of Mule Road.

The drivers say it's a waste of time and a traffic hazard.

Yesterday, they told the state Department of Transportation exactly that during a hearing in which the school district is hoping to get an exemption from a federal law that requires school buses, as well as trucks carrying toxic waste, to stop at railroad crossings such as the Conrail-owned Toms River Industrial Track.

"In the last five years, we can recall only two instances when a train has used the track," Gus Kakavas, director of transportation for the school system, told John J. Mycoff and Todd R. Hirt, who chaired the hearing at the Dover Township Municipal Building. "And both times, a flagman for the railroad stopped traffic."

The tracks were once used by the then-Ciba-Geigy Corp., which was located on the north side of the highway, and for deliveries to a lumber yard on the south side, Kakavas said.

A crossing is considered for exempt status when the potential for damage and injury from accidents between vehicles required to stop there exceeds the potential for damage from accidents between vehicles and the train, according to the DOT.

"There is a tremendous amount of traffic in that area, and when our buses stop at the tracks, it causes confusion on the road," said Linda Bradley, a bus driver for 30 years and a member of the school bus safety committee. "Drivers are confused when we stop. They shift lanes and then cut in front of us so they can get into the Wal-Mart shopping center. I can't tell you how many close calls there have been for accidents."

Thomas Leach, Dover Township police traffic safety officer, agreed that the chance for accidents increases when the buses stop.

"It is doing the opposite of what the law was trying to do," Leach said. "It's causing accidents."

The school buses use Route 37 because their maintenance lot is at 2301 Industrial Way South, about 2 miles west of the tracks.

"Every bus comes and goes from that site," Kakavas said.

The meeting yesterday is the only scheduled public session, Mycoff said.   "But the public can write us with any comments for the next 30 days," he added.

After that, a report will be delivered to DOT Commissioner John F. Lettiere, who will rule on the request on the request for exempt status.

"I would think that a decision will be made by April," said Mycoff, DOT director director of community relations.
If it is granted, two signs saying "exempt" will be posted in each direction of Route 37.

"We haven't granted the exempt status very often," said Hirt, an engineer and diagnostic team leader for the study. "But when we have, it has been in similar situations to this, such as one on Route 130 in Burlington County."

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