ELWOOD – The state won’t decide until at least late January whether to temporarily shut down a controversial railroad crossing in Elwood despite opposition from CenterPoint Properties, the developer of two nearby intermodals.
A series of Illinois Commerce Commission hearings concerning safety at the Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing wrapped up this week in Chicago.
Over the course of those hearings, officials from Union Pacific, the Illinois Department of Transportation, Elwood and the ICC all urged an administrative law judge overseeing the case to temporarily close the crossing while a long-term solution can be found.
But CenterPoint Properties, represented by attorney Michael Scotti, has objected on the grounds that the state – if it were to close the crossing – isn’t taking into account the dangers of diverting thousands of trucks to other local roads and railroad crossings.
If the crossing were to close, there needs to be a time frame established to reopen the crossing, he said.
“If it gets closed without a time frame, there’s no incentive for the parties to quickly cooperate and fix the crossing,” Scotti said Wednesday, adding that a 90-day window would be adequate.
But Paul Streicher, attorney for Elwood, said a 90-day time frame is unrealistic for all parties to come up with a solution.
Crossing gates were broken nearly 50 times last year, and village officials have tried for some time to steer semitrailer traffic away from the area. If the crossing were shut down, IDOT would do a two-year Phase I study on the feasibility of building an overpass to separate traffic from the crossing.
A major project like that could take several years, Scotti said. That would create traffic hazards elsewhere and limit access to the intermodal in Elwood, he said.
But the ongoing conflicts between funeral processions heading to the nearby Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery and semitrailers can’t be resolved by proposed short-term solutions, Streicher said. Proposals have included more signage and adjustments in traffic signals.
The intersection is too dangerous to stay open, Streicher said.
“It’s a ticking time bomb waiting to happen,” he said.
Part of the problem at the crossing stems from the increase in truck traffic, which significantly has exceeded initial projections from when the crossing project was first discussed in 2001. It was opened in 2004.
Attempts to improve crossing safety include Union Pacific lengthening the delay between the red light and when the crossing bars come down to give semitrailers time to clear the intersection. Will County sheriff’s deputies hired by Union Pacific were stationed there during peak funeral procession hours to marshal traffic.
Moving forward, ICC staff next month will write up a draft closure order for review. All parties involved can then either sign off or file their own draft proposal, which CenterPoint is likely to do.
The law judge will then take all responses into account and draft her own recommendation.
The order could be presented at the ICC board’s Jan. 27 meeting.
• Nov. 25: Illinois Commerce Commission staff will circulate drafted order likely recommending that the Walter Strawn railroad crossing be closed.
• Early December: Parties can submit recommended changes to proposal; opposing parties can submit own proposed order.
• The law judge will then take all responses into account and draft her own recommendation.
• Jan. 27: Earliest date that the law judge’s recommended order can be presented to the full ICC board