You Can Make a Difference!

It often seems like as just one person, you cannot make a difference, but as a board member, you really can! Greg McNeil, a board member at Ashbrooke in Hudson, petitioned the government and received federal stimulus money on behalf his association. His story was reported in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Saturday April 4, 2009.

Greg McNeil of Hudson got $168,323 in stimulus money to silence train horns at crossing near his homeFederal money to help create train quiet zone
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Karen Farkas

Hudson -- Greg McNeil competed with city, county and state officials for Ohio's federal stimulus money and wound up winning $168,323 to silence train horns at a crossing near his home.

McNeil's project, on behalf of his homeowners association, was one of only 149 chosen last week by the Ohio Department of Transportation from 2,222 eligible to receive $774 million in infrastructure money. His is the only submission from a private citizen to receive ODOT's nod.

"I tell you, we were ecstatic," he said. "This was just tremendous." Norfolk Southern owns the tracks that cross Twinsburg Road in Macedonia, where the number of trains has increased to 76 a day. Nearby residents in Hudson, Macedonia and Northfield Center Township don't mind the trains, just the horns.

McNeil, who owns a Web site design company, has lived in Hudson's Ashbrooke East subdivision just west of the tracks for four years. As vice president of his homeowners association, he volunteered in January of last year to find out how the crossing could become a quiet zone.

A 2005 federal rule sets standards for quiet zones, which can be designated by the Federal Railroad Administration if safety measures at railroad crossings are sufficiently upgraded.

Norfolk Southern did an engineering study of the Twinsburg Road crossing for $7,500, with half the cost paid by Macedonia and the remainder split by Northfield Center Township and Hudson, McNeil said.

The engineering report last September recommended dividers in the center of the road and circuitry upgrades to lower the gates based on the speed of the train instead of when it reaches a certain point on the tracks. The cost for those improvements was $168,323.

McNeil appealed to public officials for state or federal help but struck out.

On March 3, he talked to Heidi Swindell, government-affairs liaison for the Summit County engineer's office, and she suggested he apply for stimulus money. Only one problem - the deadline was that day. McNeil enlisted the help of his daughter Amy, a senior marketing major at Kent State University, and they submitted the online proposal 15 minutes before the deadline. "I kind of looked at it as a 'Hail Mary' pass," he said.

The Ohio Rail Development Commission recommended grade-crossing safety projects to ODOT for stimulus funding, said spokesman Stu Nicholson. "There was some pretty hefty competition," he said. "For a homeowners association to go through that process and win out is not a small victory. It's pretty significant."

McNeil hopes the crossing project is finished by Labor Day. Swindell, who said the engineer's office will help in any way it can, was amazed that McNeil's project was one of the six in Summit County to receive stimulus funds. "I was so impressed at his tenacity," she said. "Here is a private citizen, instead of complaining about something wrong in his neighborhood, trying to find ways to fix it."
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