Association seeks public crossing designation

FRONT ROYAL — The homeowner’s association for Shenandoah River Estates wants to change the designation of the Mary’s Shady Lane railroad crossing from private to public.

Eva Challis, association vice president and safety coordinator, said that she has submitted a written letter requesting the designation to numerous town and county officials.

“I’m asking them to do what they can to get the [railroad crossing] designation switched from private to public,” Challis said.

Challis estimated that around 100 people live in the communities off of Mary’s Shady Lane – which extends from the Happy Creek Road crossing, past Interstate-81 and near the Shenandoah River.

Town Manager Steve Burke said, “Right now, I would suspect that it would be between [Norfolk Southern] and Warren County, because there are no town residents affected by this crossing.  So there’s no interest in the town to seek any change to this designation.”

Challis’ actions stem from a situation last week when work carried out by Norfolk Southern at Mary’s Shady Lane and Shenandoah Shores caused access to and from the communities to be delayed by more than eight hours.

Several residents who live off of Mary’s Shady Lane and Shenandoah Shores expressed frustration over the communication of the closure as well as the delays.

Tammy Brown, contract administrator with Roadsafe Traffic, said they placed a message board in advance of the work performed at Mary’s Shady Lane the Sunday before the closing as well as last Wednesday.

Roadsafe was contracted through Norfolk Southern Railways to put up signage and notification about last week’s work.

“We do not have to have a permit and we do not have to put up signs unless it is a public road,” Brown said. “We did it as a common courtesy.”

The only access point to the communities is through the gravel road of Mary’s Shady Lane, Challis noted. “Our problem is we got the river on one side, and the railroad on the other.”

“When they made plans to close Shenandoah Shores, they made sure there was fire truck in there and emergency services close by,” she said. “We just want to be treated the same.”

Cliff Balderson, administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation Edinburg Residency, said Shenandoah Shores Road is within town limits and maintained with public funds, unlike Mary’s Shady Lane.

Changing that would not only involve the local government, but would also require upgrades for the road to fall in line with Virginia Department of Transportation standards.

“There are criteria that it has to meet, and then it’s got to be supported from county and local government bodies,” Balderson said.

The criteria includes a surface upgrade from gravel to asphalt or pavement, a right-of-way a minimum of 40 feet wide and there must be at least three occupied homes.

VDOT’s requirements also stipulate that a road must connect to other VDOT-maintained roads and be capable of handling the traffic volume.

These upgrades, Balderson noted, would cost more than $100,000 for even a publicly maintain dirt road.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard “Dick” Traczyk said it would also require the installation of required railroad gates, which he estimated could cost $300,000 to $400,000.

“Somebody’s gotta fork up the $300,000 to $400,000 construction,” Traczyk said. “The railroad sure isn’t.”

In addition, the town is working with the Front Royal Limited Partnership on a development that would add more homes to Shenandoah River Estates as well as a planned east-west connector road.

This connection would stem from Shenandoah Shores Road, and add another access point from the historic downtown district to Happy Creek Road and the planned Leech Run Parkway.

Once this road is installed, Traczyk said that Mary’s Shady Lane will be discontinued and the railroad crossing will be closed permanently.

Challis said, “I, of course, don’t support that because Mary’s Shady Lane is a historic old road. I’d hate to see it gone.”

Traczyk added, “I know there’s a lot of people that don’t like the idea of driving over to that connector road. But it’ll be paved, instead of driving down that dusty dirt road.”

“In the long-run, it’s better for the citizens and it makes life a lot easier than maintaining that dirt road all the time,” he said.

Challis said, “I just want it to at least be called a public crossing so we are notified when there are construction projects coming.”

“I might work on the whole lane another day, but right now, just the crossing,” she added.

Contact staff writer Kevin Green at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kgreen@nvdaily.com