Columbia Mayor: Citizens could get a vote to end train roadblocks on Assembly St.

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Mayor Steve Benjamin's speech was called "A Smarter City," and he promised things like a plan to end food deserts, a more friendly city for bicyclists, and more development in north Columbia.

But one of the big moments is when the mayor addressed what's become a Columbia problem: trains stopped on their tracks in the middle of downtown Columbia, which is often a traffic-congesting, headache-causing nightmare.

"Rail traffic is up 800 percent, guys. 800 percent. Some of the trains that used to come through downtown Columbia were a half-mile long are now two-and-a-half miles long," he said in his speech.

MORE: Trains stopping on Assembly Street have a new enemy: the SC General Assembly

In the speech, the mayor said – if the State Infrastructure Bank and the South Carolina Department of Transportation won't help – he's ready to take the issue to Columbia voters as soon as this year.

"We're going to put on the table, a potential voter referendum," he said in an interview after his speech. "What we're talking about would require a millage increase."

The fix could cost close to $70 million to create a rail flyover to prevent the Assembly Street tie-ups.

Another expensive endeavor: revitalizing Finlay Park. A previous estimate put it at $20 million. Now, the mayor says the city will soon unveil a similar plan that won't cost taxpayers as much.

"What you will see with Finlay Park will be a public-private partnership. In terms of cost to the taxpayer, it will be significantly lower," he said.

Back to the train issue, the mayor said he also wants to establish "Quiet Zones" to prevent trains from waking some up at night.

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