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FRONTAGE ROAD IS CLOSED AT DEADLY RAIL CROSSING

SHARE FRONTAGE ROAD IS CLOSED AT DEADLY RAIL CROSSING

The city closed a frontage road Thursday to prevent accidents at a dangerous railroad crossing, but critics say the action will do more harm than good.

As workers welded the metal barricade at the snowy site, business owners said they will take legal action to reopen the road.After protestations from three Sandy officials, the South Jordan City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to block 300 West at 10200 South for 90 days, which will prevent cars from crossing unguarded railroad tracks there. Engineers will use the three months to study the area and improve safety at the site, city staff told the council.

"In order to be responsible elected officials of this city, we need to step back and take an exhaustive look at this," Councilman Richard Warne said in support of the closure. Councilman Tom Christensen called it a "wise decision."

But business owners and officials in neighboring Sandy say blocking 300 West compounds hazards by forcing hundreds of vehicles out onto gridlocked 9000 South and 10600 South.

Early Thursday, business owners contacted an attorney and will ask for an injunction to reopen the road. "We are taking legal action against South Jordan. We've already started," said Sheri Schauerhamer, owner of Economy Builders Supply, 9150 S. 300 West.

Byron Jorgenson, Sandy's chief administrative officer, said he's worried about the safety of the people who live and work in the area. The closure also creates dire problems for police and fire-fighters going to calls in areas nearby.

"It's their road, their crossing, so it's hard for us to alter a decision they've made, even if we think it's created a safety problem," Jorgenson said. "There may be some legal action we can take. I just don't know yet."

City adminstrator Dave Millheim has said he knows some people will be inconvenienced. "We don't want any more tragedy."

Three Sandy teenagers were killed at the crossing New Year's Eve, bringing to about 30 the number of people killed by trains at the location in the past 70 years. The crossing is one of dozens around the state that the Utah Department of Transportation says has inadequate caution equipment.

More than 2,000 residents from South Jordan and other areas wrote letters and signed petitions asking the city to make the crossing safe or close the road. In their comments Wednesday, Sandy officials offered to help buy materials to make the crossing more visible and to contribute engineering time.

As snow fell Thursday, public works employees were at the site blocking the narrow road that parallels I-15 from 9000 South to 10600 South. By mid-morning, workers were still welding a sturdy metal fence bordered by two cement barriers.

The majority of drivers headed to one of dozens of businesses in the area seemed irritated by the closure, flipping quick U-turns or questioning police nearby. A couple of people believed the closing - while inconvenient - was necessary.

Tina Darling, who works at Enuf International, said she was almost hit by a train at the crossing once.

But Ed Moyer, patrol commander for Sandy police, told the council rerouting traffic off 300 West just moves the hazards from the crossing to other parts of the community. Police need every moment when responding to emergencies.

South Jordan will issue keys to its police officers and firefighters, so they'll be able to unlock the gate and pass through the area, if necessary. South Jordan police and fire officials said having the keys would alleviate their concerns about being able to respond efficiently.

But Sandy Fire Chief Don Chase said this isn't realistic. "In a full (heart) arrest, the brain dies within five minutes. The difference in one minute of locking or unlocking a gate can mean the difference between life or death."

While Sandy officials were allowed to speak to the council Wednesday, several business owners were not.

The City Council did not have to hold a public hearing because the road will be closed temporarily, not permanently, Millheim said.