LARGO — Gary Nelson was driving to his chiropractor's office a few weeks ago when he felt it. His car shook on West Bay Drive like it had just run over a pothole.
It wasn't a pothole that jolted Nelson, though. It was the railroad crossing. And he wasn't the first driver to feel that jolt.
Nelson's chiropractor is City Commissioner Woody Brown. When Nelson got to Brown's office, he joined the small group of people who have asked Brown over the last six months some form of this question: "When is CSX going to fix the problem with the railroad crossing on West Bay Drive?"
"Right in the middle of the heart of your city that you're trying to beautify, and you have this huge pothole no one's taken care of," said Nelson, 42, a Largo resident who works in construction.
Fixing it won't be cheap, though. Raising the tracks and installing a concrete structure to level the road will cost $150,000 to $175,000, according to City Manager Mac Craig. And transportation company CSX says Largo needs to pay for it.
The crossing is lined with rubber mats bolted to the ground that are supposed to keep the road level. The mats have buckled in West Bay Drive's westbound lanes, though, creating a valley between the tracks.
City staffers have photographed the damaged mats and videotaped cars rolling over the tracks. They noticed drivers in the left lane swerving to avoid the bump between the tracks.
"It's dangerous," said Brown. "It needs to be fixed before it starts hurting people's cars, or we see people running into the curb trying to avoid it."
That price tag could hold up any solution, though. CSX spokesman Gary Sease explained, via email, why any project to fix the crossing will be paid for by Largo taxpayers, not the railroad company.
"Each crossing is covered by an agreement that spells out responsibility for the cost of maintenance and repairs. Those responsible can be the state of Florida, a county or city, or CSX. West Bay Drive is the responsibility of the city of Largo, according to the agreement," Sease wrote.
There is another crossing just a few hundred feet away from West Bay Drive, on Seminole Boulevard, that is the state's responsibility, according to Sease. The department of transportation will pay $500,000 to replace that crossing this summer, according to spokeswoman Kris Carson.The decision whether or not to pay for fixing the West Bay Drive crossing will need to be made by the City Commission, according to Jonathan Evans, assistant to the city manager. The city is still in negotiations with CSX on when the work could be done, Evans said.
Regardless of who pays for the project, Brown said the work needs to be done.
"It'd be nice if CSX helped in the expense of fixing their railroad crossing," Brown said. "But it needs to be fixed."
Nelson agreed with Brown. He also agreed, however, that $150,000 is a lot of money.
"Holy cow," he said. "That's a big chunk of change."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or [email protected]