City to hold July 29 public hearing on rail crossing issue

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By Rich Bauer, Managing Editor

Vandalia residents will have a chance in two weeks to voice their opinions on a plan to replace railroad crossings with stop signs at four locations.
That chance will come during a public hearing set for 5 p.m. on Monday, July 29, when the city council’s streets and public safety committees continue discussion on a proposal by local developer Charles Barenfanger.
Barenfanger, who with his brother, Walt, started local rail line service in the early 1980s, a few years after Illinois Central Railroad abandoned its north-south line, wants to revive that service.
Doing so, he told the council, could greatly aid local economic development efforts.
Earlier this month, Barenfanger told aldermen that he and Effingham-based developer Agracel are working to purchase the local rail line from Pioneer Railcorp.
One of the issues, Barenfanger said, is the four crossings within city limits, on Janett Avenue, Fillmore Street, Jefferson Street and Randolph street.
Barenfanger is proposing the replacement of the existing crossing signals with four signs. Doing so would save maintenance costs while providing adequate traffic control for liability purposes.
Because the signals are used so infrequently, he said, the possibility of them not working properly greatly increases.
Barenfanger told aldermen that should his partnership purchase the rail line, it faces extremely high liability insurance rates if the city fails to act on his stop sign proposal.
“Some estimates are over $100,000,” he said, noting that liability insurance for the line is so high due to an accident at the Janett Avenue crossing several years ago.
That type of premium, Barenfanger said, would likely kill the plan to buy the local rail line and, thus, hamper local development efforts along the line.
Mayor Rick Gottman referred the issue to the council’s streets and public safety committees, and the council agreed to hold a public hearing, after Alderman Dorothy Crawford continued to voice concerns about stop signs at two of the crossings and Alderman Russ Stunkel questioned whether stop signs on Randolph Street would even be allowed by the state.
At the council’s July 1 meeting, Crawford spoke mainly about putting a stop sign on Fillmore Street, close to another stop sign on Fletcher.
Motorists turning right off of Fletcher would not even be able to complete the turn before stopping at a second sign, she said, also noting concerns about issues with school buses at that crossing.
Barenfanger said that after that meeting, he spoke with Mike Critcheloe, transportation supervisor for the Vandalia School District, and Critcheloe agreed that the Fillmore sign could be placed just east of Fletcher.
Even with the sign at that location, Barenfanger said school bus drivers would have no problem looking north and south for train traffic.
He also said that he believes the city can leave the stop sign for southbound traffic on Eighth Street at the Randolph Street intersection where it is now, even though it is south of the railroad tracks.
Barenfanger added that Critcheloe told him he feels bus drivers can pull past the stop signs if they need to.
As to the Eighth Street stop sign, Crawford said the law stipulates that stop signs can’t be closer than 15 feet to a railroad crossing.
“Now, we’re stopping them on the tracks. The only reason we can do that is because of the signals,” she said.
“And Mike Critcheloe can say that police officers won’t pull over bus drivers … but I don’t want to be part of a city council that tells bus drivers to ignore the law.”
Barenfanger and Gottman both said that bus drivers can abide by the law by stopping at stop signs, then pulling forward to stop at the rail crossings.
That, Crawford said, would cause traffic to be worse at those locations.
Alderman B.J. Clark said, “We’re only talking twice a day; it’s not all day long.”
“It’s two hours,” Crawford said.
“It’s going to take a bad traffic situation and make it worse,” she said.
At that point, Stunkel suggested a public hearing, “to (let) the public know what’s going on,” and to allow residents to speak on the issue.
Also at the meeting:
• The council approved the final pay request, for $53,554.85, from Kinney Construction of Raymond for the Fourth Street streetscape work.
The council also approved the purchase of 15 benches, 15 trash cans and related items for $16,358, and the purchase of 22 light fixtures, two sign poles, 14 sign frames and related materials for $93,069.77.
The final payment for the streetscape work and payments for the additional items are all coming from grant funds received from the state for the streetscape project.
The additional items being purchased will be stored for installation during future streetscape projects.
• The council accepted Bob Cearlock’s resignation from the Vandalia Lake Committee, and agreed to appoint Joe Cearlock to succeed him.
• The council approved a marketing agreement with Agracel Inc. of Effingham. Through the agreement, the city will pay $2,487.93 and Agracel will pay $2,487.94 for a cooperative marketing mailing.
• The council approved a 20-year lease with the Catholic Church for off-street parking on Seventh Street for Mother of Dolors Catholic Church. The church pays the city $1.
• The council authorized Gottman to send to Enbridge Inc. a letter encouraging the company to use property along the Vandalia Railroad line to store pipeline for its upcoming project in Southern Illinois.
• The council approved the low bid from Whiteside Communications for equipment to be installed in the police department’s new squad car and SUV.
Whiteside’s bid, which included radio equipment and emergency lighting items, totaled $11,298.
• The council amended the lease agreement with Cripe Farms, which is farming city-owned land off of West Main Street, to include Rodney Hunt in the agreement.
• The council approved the yearly update of the city’s municipal code, the cost being $1,833.