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Rail work stops roads

There are more dead ends in store as CSX replaces rails and ties at a number of intersections in Lutz.

By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002


photo
[Times photo: Fraser Hale]
J.T. McLellan, left, and L.C. Black work on the Lutz-Lake Farm railroad crossing at U.S. 41 on Wednesday.
LUTZ -- If 2002 has brought any changes to Lutz so far, it's that important roads have suddenly turned into dead ends.

More of this is in store.

The culprit is CSX Transportation, owner of the railroad line alongside U.S. 41. In a routine maintenance program, CSX crews are replacing rails and ties, and replenishing the gravel bed under them.

Last week, the work closed Lutz-Lake Fern Road for 31/2 days. In eight days, Crystal Lake Road is to close, also for several days. Previously, County Line Road, Myrtle Ridge Road, Lake Hobbs Road and 4th Avenue NW closed.

Hillsborough County's Public Works Department posted warning signs in each case, and assigned employees to wave off determined motorists. They heard pungent remarks from some of the most frustrated.

But not all was negative.

"It was like being on vacation," said Gaye Townsend, who lives just off County Line and has protested the speed and volume of traffic there. "It was wonderful."

Janet Kaufmann, who lives off Lake Hobbs Road, said daughters Elizabeth, 11, and Stephanie, 15, enjoyed watching the work while waiting for school buses.

"The kids were interested in what it was taking to maintain all that stuff."

A temporary gravel road was laid alongside the track, allowing residents to cross it at Fourth Avenue NW, immediately to the south.

The crew arrived at Lake Hobbs Road early in January, during the coldest week of the winter and occasionally lit a fire for warmth, Kaufmann said. Elizabeth Kaufmann was so sympathetic that she took them a bundle of firewood.

On the other hand, the Kaufmanns lost their easy access to the Lutz Branch Library last week when Lutz-Lake Fern closed. Janet Kaufmann parked on the east side of U.S. 41, and walked across the highway and a park to bypass the construction site.

The Lutz Volunteer Fire Department, cut off on the west side of the blockage, easily reached U.S. 41 via an emergency access gate next to the Lutz Community Center, fire Chief Ed Davis said.

"After a while, I noticed the gate just sort of stood open, which is just as well," he said.

Tony Craparo, the Hillsborough County engineer who is coordinating the road closings, said the work is a prelude to a faster, larger-scale operation by a national CSX "tie gang" that is refurbishing the entire rail line. The crew was working southward through Hernando County last week, and is expected in Lutz later this month, Craparo said.

For better traffic management, the county persuaded CSX to send a local crew to handle troublesome intersections early, so closings could be better coordinated with the county.

The tie gang replaces some 400 rail ties a day, and closes intersections as it reaches them, Craparo said. Now, the tie gang will pass over intersections handled by the local crew.

After that crew reworks the intersection at Crystal Lake Road, Craparo hopes they will have time to take on the intersections of Whitaker and Chapman roads. But that isn't certain.

Other than Myrtle Ridge, renovations are due at every rail crossing on the east side of U.S. 41.

"We're doing our best to keep everything rolling," Craparo said. "Once the tie gang gets here, it's a dogfight."

- Bill Coats can be reached at (813) 269-5309 or coats@sptimes.com.

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