While addressing the issue of train traffic congestion in his State of the City address on Jan. 30, Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin posed a solution that would require a combination of local, state and/or federal funds.
Benjamin suggested that city residents might vote later this year on a property tax increase being part of that answer for a railroad flyover bridge on Assembly Street that is estimated to cost at least $80 million.
“The only way to make that happen is to ask voters if this is a priority and if we’re willing to pitch in to pay for it,” Benjamin said.
The mayor said he will seek contributions from the state and federal transportation departments, and that Columbia will apply for State Infrastructure Bank money.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, told The State newspaper that South Carolina doesn’t have the money to help with an answer, but he has filed a bill that would increase fines for trains that block state roads for longer than five minutes.
“The party that needs to pay are the train operators themselves,” Rutherford said. “They are the ones that need to pay up so we can fix our train problem. And if they would stop blocking our roads, we wouldn’t have a train problem.”
The increase in the state’s network of railroad cargo traffic can be attributed to skyrocketing economic activity via the Port of Charleston and the Upstate’s Inland Port of Greer. Benjamin in his speech noted that trains stuck blocking traffic in the past that would be a half-mile long can often now be 2-and-a-half miles long.
Since Benjamin’s State of the City speech, an Amtrak train collided in the early morning hours of Feb. 4 with a parked CSX freight locomotive in nearby Cayce, which killed the Amtrak train’s conductor and engineer as well as sent more than 100 passengers to hospitals. The National Transportation Safety Board continues to investigate.