Scaled-back rail crossing plan

While the Illinois Commerce Commission has substantially scaled down its proposal for Vandalia’s downtown railroad crossings, the city would like to see it give in a little more.
At a work session on Monday night, Rodney Potts of John Crawford and Associates presented to city aldermen the ICC’s second proposal to make changes that would enhance traffic safety at Fifth and Sixth street crossings.
The ICC presented their second proposal for changes at the crossings six weeks after representatives of the commission and Illinois Department of Transportation learned that their original plan was not well received in the community.
That original plan – devised as a result of the fatal accident at the Sixth Street crossing on the evening of the 2014 Halloween parade – called for closing Eighth Street to traffic between Fifth and Eighth streets.
The plan that Potts received from Mike Stead of the ICC at the end of February proposed only eastbound traffic on Main Street between Fifth and Sixth streets, due to the narrow width of that block, and prohibiting both left and right turns for northbound traffic on both Fifth and Sixth streets.
To help direct traffic in that area, concrete curb/channeling structures would be installed on Main Street at both Fifth and Sixth streets.
In addition, the plan calls for removing the crossing arm north of Main Street on Sixth Street and installing a new one on the south side of Main Street at that crossing. That would be one of four new, state-of-the-art crossing structures installed at the two intersections.
“It’s a far distance from where we started at,” Potts said.
While city officials found most of the plan agreeable, there were some points that they do not like.
One of the biggest issues is prohibiting right turns at both of the crossings, with the most opposition coming on the Fifth Street crossing, because of businesses that would be affected.
“They’re trying to solve a problem that we never have … and making us pay for it,” said Alderman Dorothy Crawford.
While Potts said that part of the plan was added to prevent any possibility of vehicles being backed up onto the tracks while someone is making a turn ahead of them.
“People don’t stop when making a right turn,” Crawford said.
Potts said, “What they’re looking at is a worst-case scenario.”
As opposition to making any changes continued, Potts clarified that if it turns into a battle, the ICC could disregard city recommendations and opinions, and take stronger action.
“They have the power to close your crossings,” he said, adding that “they have mentioned that options.
Also causing concern among city officials, particularly Mayor Rick Gottman, is the idea that the city may have to help fund the changes, at a time when the mayor said the city can’t afford that.
Stead said that his office will recommend that the ICC give the city $30,000 to pay for the curb/channeling islands.
But Gottman pointed out that the city will also be responsible for painted markings on the roadways and all new signage. Potts said that with the current plan, 20 new signs would be posted.
Those funds, he said, would also go toward paying the city’s engineering fees for this project.
“I don’t like all of the changes, either,” Potts said.
But, he said, “It’s in our best interest to reach some kind of agreement.”
The mayor directed Potts to take back to Stead the request to eliminate the right-turn prohibitions and to request more funds for the city’s part of the project.
Gottman said he would like to see everything finalized in time for the council to vote on an agreement at its April 6 meeting.

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