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Local News

Controversial crossing in Elwood shuts down amid safety concerns

Truckers ticketed during first day of shutdown in Elwood

ELWOOD – Depending on where you stood Wednesday, day one of the Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing shutdown was either the first of many headaches – or smooth sailing and a victory for public safety.

From inside Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes’ police vehicle, the shutdown of Walter Strawn Drive meant fewer interactions between truckers on Route 53 and the nearly 2,300 residents who call Elwood home.

“The people of Elwood are going to sleep good tonight because the sky is not falling,” Hayes said. “This is a victory for public safety.”

Thousands of trucks have used the 1.7-mile stretch of road just west of Route 53 daily to reach the BNSF intermodal in Elwood or the Union Pacific intermodal in Joliet. But that route now is blocked off after the Illinois Commerce Commission ruled earlier this month to shut down the railroad crossing amid safety concerns.

The crossing was closed to traffic early Wednesday morning.

Gates at that crossing 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.

Trucks now are expected to use the Interstate 55/Arsenal Road interchange – a $68 million project completed by IDOT in 2012 to handle increased truck traffic and relieve regional traffic congestion.

Semitrailers also often use Laraway Road.

Hayes’ officers in Elwood ticketed 19 semitrailers for illegally using local roads to access the nearby industrial park. Most were ticketed for using Manhattan Road, while a handful tried cutting through town via Mississippi Avenue, he said.

Joliet and Will County law enforcement officials reported a slight increase in truck traffic along Laraway and Arsenal roads, but no serious accidents were reported, nor were any citations issued.

Illinois Department of Transportation spokesman Guy Tridgell said Wednesday afternoon that state police reported “no immediate negative impacts” to the safety of state routes, including Interstate 55.

Perhaps the most exciting thing to happen Wednesday was unrelated to the crossing shutdown, Hayes said. One truck driver pulled a knife on another driver along Elwood International Port Road in the BNSF rail yard during an argument over who had first dibs on an empty container.

No one was injured and no charges were filed, he said.

Business opposition

The view was different from within John Roetter’s International Transload Logistics facility in Elwood.

For Roetter, whose company specializes in overweight handling, the shutdown means the company will cut back on productivity because of the absence of alternative routes for overweight truckers.

It also means having to shift much of the logistics company’s operations from its Wilmington facility to Elwood, which already is at capacity, he said.

For years, his overweight customers used Walter Strawn Drive – the only access point that allows trucks more than 80,000 pounds – to enter and exit the intermodals. Now, to leave his facility, his employees must reduce the load to be considered legal.

“Efficiencies are being lost,” Roetter said.

Joliet has jurisdiction over nearby Laraway Road and Centerpoint Way, while Will County has jurisdiction over Arsenal Road. The county does not offer overweight permits and allows only grain haulers or trucks with “non-divisible loads” carrying up to 88,000 pounds.

Because Joliet does not allow truckers to access the Joliet intermodal from the north, drivers end up making an illegal U-turn farther south, heading back north to enter the industrial park.

CenterPoint Properties, the developer of both intermodals, along with trucking and logistics companies, opposes the shutdown. CenterPoint representatives are meeting with affected businesses Thursday at its Oak Brook headquarters to discuss the situation.

Michael Scotti, attorney for CenterPoint, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

What’s next?

As required by the ICC order, IDOT officials will meet quarterly with all stakeholders – Elwood, CenterPoint, Union Pacific, Joliet, Will County and others – to go over long-term solutions to safety hazards. The first meeting is set for Friday.

In the meantime, IDOT will complete a regional traffic study, Tridgell said. A second study will be completed by year’s end on the feasibility of building an overpass over the Union Pacific railroad at Walter Strawn Drive.

Both Joliet City Manager Jim Hock and Will County Highway Engineer Bruce Gould said Wednesday there are no plans to issue overweight trucking permits for city roads or Arsenal Road.

“When you start issuing multiple overweight permits on a road, the damage to the system far outweighs the cost benefit. You can’t charge enough to overset the costs,” Gould said.

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