TUNNELTON — The first step to a temporary solution to the Tunnelton underpass will be taken Thursday.
During heavy rains, flooding occurs in the structure, delaying emergency vehicles and sending local residents several miles out of their way to bypass the problem.
On Thursday, the town will run a camera in the drain to see if a blockage is causing the flooding.
At a Tuesday morning meeting, Division of Highways District 4 Engineer Donny Williams said he couldn’t speak for CSX, which owns the underpass, but he believes the railroad would let the town dig on its right-of-way to fix a blockage, if one exists.
Williams met with Tunnelton Mayor Bryan Harris, County commissioners Dave Price and Don Smith, Delegate Terri Funk Sypolt and community members to discuss possible solutions to the problem.
Williams said once the drainage problem is addressed, other solutions like putting in a bridge or upgrading alternate routes could be discussed.
“I am bringing a consultant on board,” he said. “I am optimistic he can come up with a solution. We’ll bring the alternatives to the mayor and commissioners.” He said the consultant would be on board within six to eight weeks.
When a question arose about damage done to the underpass by dripping water, Town Clerk Rita Nicholson said, “awhile back, we took CSX to court. We were awarded money to
fix the dripping. We can no longer come back on them for water destroying the roads.”
“The drainage system is not working,” Commissioner Smith said. “It’s arc-haic.” The brick road going into the underpass on one side belongs to the town, W.Va. 26 on the other side is the property of the state, and the right-of-way under the railroad is CSX’s responsibility due to a 1912 agreement, Williams said.
“This brings complexities,” he said.
County Administrator Kathy Mace suggested she and Harris have a conference call with CSX representatives and discuss the possibility of mitigating the drainage until per-manent alternatives can be addressed.
Price remarked it took three years to have a bridge built in Terra Alta. “I believe we should look at the drain. It’s better than waiting three years,” he said. “With bad weather coming, we need to cooperate with CSX and find some short-term relief.”
A meeting to discuss the underpass in April drew about 50 residents and officials. At that time, several safety issues were discussed.
Tunnelton Volunteer Fire Department President Brian Moreland said the VFD received 13 emergency calls about the underpass. He said two calls were for water rescue. When the underpass floods, it can also force firefighters to drive another route.
“Flooding delays res-ponse time for emergency vehicles,” he said. “It’s delayed about five minutes with a smaller truck,” Moreland said. “The larger trucks have to go on Grimmtown Road and are delayed 15 minutes. That could mean the difference between life and death.”
Danny McGinnis said he drives a school bus and his route goes through the underpass.
“The bus rocks, and the little kids hit their heads against the windows. After they redid the sidewalks, it’s so high the bus has almost been hit several times. I have 60-70 kids in the morning,” he said.
McGinnis said his bus is not the only one that must travel through the underpass. “There are four other buses that goes through there. One bus makes nine trips a day,” he said.
“CSX has been very cooperative,” Williams said at the Tuesday meeting. He said once the consultant res-earches alternatives, he will meet with county commissioners and Harris to discuss a permanent fix.
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