ELWOOD – The shutdown of a controversial railroad crossing in Elwood near two industrial park intermodals is going to hurt business, while doing nothing for public safety, according to logistics companies and other opponents.
The Walter Strawn Drive crossing must be shut down by Jan. 28, after the Illinois Commerce Commission ruled Wednesday that the crossing is too dangerous to remain open while a permanent solution can be found.
An exact closing date is yet to be determined.
Crossing gates were broken nearly 50 times in 2013, according to village officials, who have tried for some time to steer semitrailer traffic away from the area.
Thousands of trucks use Walter Strawn on a daily basis to reach the BNSF intermodal in Elwood and also to access the Union Pacific intermodal in Joliet.
The shutdown means semitrailers will now have to use the Arsenal Road interchange on Interstate 55.
The situation may even be worse for John Roetter, president of International Transload Logistics Inc., a company that specializes in overweight handling and the arrangement of freight and cargo.
“It’s going to be a disaster at that park. It could wipe my business out in Wilmington,” Roetter said.
Most, if not all, loads leaving his facility each day are overweight, and therefore must enter the park via Route 53 and Walter Strawn Drive – the only access point that allows trucks over 80,000 pounds, he said. Elwood issues monthly and daily overweight permits for the use of Walter Strawn.
Roetter’s customers won’t be allowed to use Arsenal Road between I-55 and Baseline Road – which is considered the main way into the industrial parks. Arsenal Road is under Will County jurisdiction, which doesn’t allow beyond 80,000 pounds, he said. Grain haulers can go up to 88,000 pounds.
“I can tell you these ICC people have no clue as to what is moving out of the rail yards and the impact to businesses. I do not think anyone thought this through,” Roetter said. “This means basically every container I handle can’t get out of the park.”
Opponents, including CenterPoint Properties, the developer of the two intermodals, also argue the shutdown will divert thousands of trucks elsewhere in the region, thereby putting the rest of the region at risk.
One concern is that truckers will want to get from point A to point B using the shortest distance – placing them on local roads that were never designed for trucks, said Matt Hart, president of the Illinois Trucking Association.
“As soon as they close this, they are going to find the shortest alternate,” he said.
John Greuling, president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic, said his organization would like to have seen an impact study completed before the closure.
“We need a full freight movement study, looking at designated truck routes,” Greuling said. “Until we have more facts, it’s difficult to understand the impacts.”
An IDOT engineer recently sent a letter to the ICC administrative law judge overseeing the case, urging her to reconsider alternatives.
Max Bosso, public works director for Elwood, said Walter Strawn Drive has periodically closed over the years, including for emergency repair work.
“When it closed, it’s a matter of a couple of days and then everybody knows their way around,” Bosso said. “I don’t foresee any issues.”
IDOT, the ICC, Union Pacific and other parties are scheduled to meet Tuesday to discuss next steps.