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IDOT works out deal with Will County to take over Arsenal Road

A crew works Jan 28 to close off access to Walter Strawn Drive from Route 53 in Elwood.  IDOT has withdrawn its motion for a hearing to reopen Walter Strawn Drive in Elwood.
A crew works Jan 28 to close off access to Walter Strawn Drive from Route 53 in Elwood. IDOT has withdrawn its motion for a hearing to reopen Walter Strawn Drive in Elwood.

CHICAGO — The Illinois Department of Transportation is dropping its long-sought attempt to reopen a controversial railroad crossing in Elwood, citing a deal with Will County to take over Arsenal Road that secures a direct state route for overweight trucks heading to and from the nearby intermodals.

Before an Illinois Commerce Commission hearing in Chicago on Wednesday, IDOT's attorney filed a motion withdrawing the agency's request for additional hearings in the case over safety at the Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing.

The motion states the jurisdictional road transfer "satisfies IDOT's concerns about overweight truck access after the [Walter Strawn Drive] closure."

The state's takeover of Arsenal Road between Interstate 55 and Baseline Road would allow IDOT to make permanent upgrades to accommodate heavy truck traffic in and out of the area’s intermodal facilities, according to an IDOT news release.

“The magnitude of the Walter Strawn Drive closure demanded a thorough look at the facts,” IDOT Acting Secretary Blankenhorn said in the news release. “After working with local stakeholders and examining all of the issues involved, this decision allows everyone to move forward on developing long-term transportation solutions for the area.”

The Illinois Commerce Commission’s closure of the railway crossing at Walter Strawn Drive earlier this year erased a major entry point for overweight trucks to the CenterPoint Intermodal Center parks in Joliet and Elwood.

Since that time, the county was forced to issue overweight permits for trucks — but on a temporary basis — to keep commerce moving in and out of the intermodals.

IDOT's motion stated the state had no guarantee that the county would continue its temporary permitting, leading the state agency to seek the jurisdictional transfer.

In its motion to withdraw, IDOT did note an increase in accidents near the interchange at I-55 and I-80 since the Walter Strawn Drive closure.

"IDOT continues to monitor this situation," the motion states. "If credible evidence develops indicating the increase in traffic accidents on the interstates in attributable in whole, or in part, to the change in truck movements caused by the [closure], IDOT reserves the right to submit a new application for rehearing. Right now, however, it is too soon to tell."

Will County Executive Larry Walsh Sr. said he hopes the Will County Board will approve the jurisdictional transfer at its Aug. 20 meeting, while adding that a long-term solution is needed to address traffic safety issues in the region.

Michael Scotti, attorney for CenterPoint Properties, said the Oak Brook-based developer also remains concerned about increased truck traffic in areas other than Walter Strawn Drive. But he said he also wants to review IDOT's regional traffic impact report, released Wednesday.

"I think we'd like to work diligently to make sure the alternate route is selected and implemented," Scotti said of the Arsenal Road takeover.

Gates at the Elwood crossing were broken nearly 50 times in 2013, and Village of Elwood officials have tried for some time to steer semitrailer traffic away from the area despite opposition from CenterPoint and trucking companies.

Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes said in a news release closing the crossing has created a safer environment in the area.

"We are extremely happy that IDOT had a change of heart and decided not to pursue re-opening this rail crossing, which would have most certainly led to tragedy," Hayes said in the release.

The parties involved in the ICC case — the Village of Elwood, Union Pacific, ICC staff, CenterPoint, and Will County — have until Aug. 19 to respond to IDOT's motion, according to ICC spokesperson Kelly Klopp. A status hearing is scheduled for Sept. 16.

In the meantime, the ICC hearings on long-term solutions will continue. The full ICC board will vote at a later date on the motion filed Wednesday.

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