ELWOOD – The Illinois Department of Transportation has reversed its position on last month’s closing of a controversial Elwood railroad crossing, having joined CenterPoint Properties late Friday in a request to the Illinois Commerce Commission to reopen the crossing.
The ICC – which governs the state’s railways – shut down the Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing Jan. 28 amid safety concerns.
While IDOT all along has favored the closure, the state agency noted in its application Friday that a letter filed in the case just before the holidays by an IDOT attorney offered a different opinion.
The IDOT letter called for an impact study before the closure and the consideration of alternatives.
In its application filed Friday with the ICC, IDOT staff explained that the crossing’s closure has negatively impacted public safety and has “added significant additional commercial vehicle traffic to an already-congested transportation system.”
IDOT staff also cited the “debilitating impact” the closure has had on commercial vehicle traffic access to and from the two CenterPoint intermodals, noting that a regional impact study was not completed before the closure. CenterPoint’s application concurred with IDOT’s assessment.
IDOT issued a statement Friday saying “due to the ongoing concerns regarding access for certain overweight vehicles to the CenterPoint facilities and the lack of a comprehensive traffic impact study prior to the closure, we feel this is the right decision.”
Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes could not immediately be reached Friday for comment.
Thousands of trucks have used the 1.7-mile stretch of road just west of State Route 53 daily to reach the BNSF intermodal in Elwood or the Union Pacific intermodal in Joliet. But that route now is blocked off.
Semitrailers 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.
Both CenterPoint and IDOT’s request calls on the ICC administrative law judge to reconsider the closure and hold additional hearings to consider new evidence. A hearing is set for Feb. 24, said Michael Scotti, attorney for CenterPoint. He said he hopes this issue is addressed at that time. The deadline to file with the ICC was Saturday, Scotti said.
Gates at that crossing were broken almost 50 times in 2013, according to village officials, who have tried for some time to steer semitrailer traffic away from the area.
Part of the problem at the crossing stems from the increase in truck traffic, which has exceeded initial projections from when the crossing project was first discussed in 2001. The crossing opened in 2004.
• Herald-News Reporter Bob Okon contributed to this report.