AMITE — The Tangipahoa Parish Council has voted to authorize the council’s attorney to file for a court order to force state transportation officials to reopen three railroad crossings in the parish that were closed early Saturday.
Parish President Gordon Burgess, council members and representatives for about two dozen residents of areas near the closed crossings expressed anger and frustration during Monday night’s council meeting with the manner in which the state Department of Transportation and Development shut down the crossings.
Burgess told the council he received a letter from DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas on Monday morning notifying him that her department had decided to close the three crossings after consulting with engineers and others who are charged with regulating crossings statewide.
The crossings are at Babb Street in the village of Tangipahoa, Capace Road north of Independence and Rev. J. White Road south of Independence. The injunction that Council Attorney Cliff Speed was authorized to file does not include the Babb Road crossing because it is within the village of Tangipahoa. However, the council invited village authorities to join in the suit.
Burgess said he first learned that DOTD planned to close the crossings in a call from a newspaper reporter late last week. He said he was shocked when he received calls from area residents early Saturday that barricades were already up at the three sites.
Burgess said that DOTD’s actions were “irritating to say the least.”
The council voted unanimously to seek a temporary restraining order or permanent injunction to force the state DOTD to reopen the crossings.
Councilman Louis Joseph, who represents the Independence area, said he was caught off guard by DOTD’s “unprecedented and sneaky” actions.
“You can’t get a driver’s license on a Saturday morning and yet DOTD decided that was the right time to close these crossings,” Louis said. “This is not how a state agency should act … DOTD should send a representative here and apologize to the council and the citizens of our parish.”
Fire Chief Bruce Cutrer of Fire Protection District No. 1 told the council that state law requires that emergency care providers be given advance notice if any route changes, such as railroad crossing closures, are created. DOTD failed to notify anyone in Tangipahoa Parish that it was closing the three roads in question, Cutrer said.
DOTD’s actions in closing the railroad crossings also were blasted by representatives of the Tangipahoa Parish chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Tangipahoa Concerned Citizens Coalition.