JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind - Nearly a year after the death of 20-year old Shauna Synesael at a railroad crossing in Whiteland, a memorial to Shauna and a couple yard signs are the only visible additions to the site.
Drivers crossing the railroad tracks on Tracy Road either stop or slowly roll through a stop sign located just a few feet from the tracks.
Since Synesael’s death in a crash with a train in March, 2019, her friend Heather Stone says she’s had her own close calls while crossing the tracks.
“There’s been multiple times where the train, they don’t blow the horn until they are right up on it,” Stone said. “If you are distracted at all, even for the moment, and they’re right up on you before they blow their horn, you know.”
Within the next year, new safety features are in the works for the crossing, as well as 14 others in parts of Johnson County. The improvements will be made possible by a federal grant secured jointly by the cities of Franklin and Greenwood, as well as the town of Whiteland and Johnson County.
Mayor Mark Myers has spent the last four years pushing for changes at the federal level that would require railroad companies to fund traffic safety improvements at railroad crossings where rail line upgrades allow for larger, faster and more frequent trains to run through communities like Johnson County. Those efforts have not been successful.
“And it’s so frustrating to me because I believe eleven people have been killed on this track between Indianapolis and Louisville since they’ve upgraded it,” Myers said.
Myers, along with leaders from Franklin, Whiteland and Johnson County worked with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization to jointly apply for a $3.4 million federal grant through the Highway Safety Improvement Program. The money will cover 90-percent of the cost for safety improvements at 15 crossings in the county. Each community will pay to cover the remaining 10-percent of the costs to their crossings. Franklin will pay nearly $135,000, Greenwood will pay nearly $91,000, Whiteland will be responsible for roughly $62,000 with the county covering about $60,000.
“I’m fine with the city paying 10 percent,” Myers said. “If it saves one life, it’s worth the money.”
In Franklin, upgrades are planned for railroad crossings on Lynhurst Avenue, King Street, East Monroe Street, Branigin Boulevard and Cincinnati Street. Greenwood is planning safety improvements to crossings on Main Street, Meridian Street, Broadway Street and Pushville Road. Whiteland has improvements planned for crossings on Tracy Road, Main Street, Walnut Street and Paul Hand Boulevard. Johnson County crossings will seem improvements at East CR 250 S and East CR 300 S.
The timeline for construction is still being planned. Myers said information will be put out to the public once those plans are in place. He says he expects some construction to begin within the next few months, possibly continuing through the rest of the year.
Local officials continue urging drivers to take responsibility for their own safety at railroad crossings.
Stone hopes more warning will help drivers to do that.
“Yeah, people can drive through it (crossing arms), but it’s a big deterrent,” Stone said. “No-one else should die here.”