By Joe Wiercinski
Herald Staff Writer
Drivers who liked to zip across West Budd Street to get to South Irvine Avenue in Sharon on their way to Ohio rumbled across the railroad tracks for the last time early Wednesday.
Norfolk Southern Corp. employees permanently closed the crossing with guard rails and concrete jersey barriers, making West Budd a dead-end street. Motorists traveling west from Shenango Valley Freeway or Sterling Avenue will find the barriers about a block past Calvert Lumber Co. and Advanced Auto Body.
Supervisor Jason Dello said a contractor installed galvanized steel barriers and a Norfolk Southern crew pulled out the paving out of the crossing over the tracks that run from Youngstown to Meadville.
The work could be wrapped up in a day if no track repairs were needed, he said Wednesday.
Bill Calvert, co-owner of Calvert Lumber Co., said it was hard to judge the effect the closing might have on the family business that has been at 139 W. Budd St., for almost 70 years.
“It will take a while for people coming from the West Hill until they figure out another way to get here,” he said. “Anytime something makes it a little harder for a customer to find you, that’s not a good thing.”
The closing was decided about 18 months ago when the city and railroad settled a two-year legal battle before the Public Utility Commission over crossings involving Budd Street.
The long-closed crossing at East Budd near Dock Street had been reopened in what was supposed to be a temporary detour while new bridges were constructed in 2008 to carry U.S. Route 62 over the tracks.
PennDOT paid for the installation of a new crossing at East Budd and it quickly became heavily used, supporting businesses and industries along Dock Street in Sharon and Martin Luther King Boulevard in Farrell.
“It took a lot of big trucks out of downtown, giving them another way to get to the freeway to Ohio,” City Manager Scott Andrejchak said.
In August 2010, city officials applied to the Public Utility Commission to keep the East Budd crossing open permanently but Norfolk Southern protested that it would then have two crossings in an area where it formerly had had one.
A year later, the railroad applied to close the West Budd crossing.
Characterizing the city as David and Norfolk Southern as Goliath, Andrejchak said he was advised by the city’s Pittsburgh law firm to settle the dispute because a PUC administrative law judge was likely to grant the railroad’s request to close the West Budd crossing.
Now that the barriers are in place, Andrejchak said he will be working with Rick Taylor, owner of Advanced Auto Body, 227 W. Budd, and other business owners to find ways to improve the appearance of the area.
“I don’t know what that means yet; it might mean planting some trees or taking other steps but we don’t want to see that area fall apart and be neglected,” Andrejchak said.