Milwaukee Street closing at railroad crossing advances

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Milwaukee Street is one step closer to no longer being a thoroughfare through the city.

The City Council Tuesday approved a resolution proposing to discontinue the portion of Milwaukee Street lying in the Wisconsin Southern Railroad rightof way.

“This resolution is an initial resolution,” City Attorney Crystal Fieber told the council. “The final resolution will come back before the council Nov. 11 and there will be a public hearing at that meeting to take public comment.”

The state office of the Railroad Commissioner has already begun the process to close the railroad crossing, Director of Public Works Bill Immich told the council.

While that process has been put on hold pending possible city action to close the crossing, Immich warned that the state office would reinstate the action if the council fails to act.

Since 2008, Immich explained, the commissioner has recommended closing 19 railroad crossings across the state and that order has been enforced in 17 of those cases even after a public hearing by that office.

“Eighty-eight percent of the time, whether the city wants it to happen or not, the crossing has been closed,” Immich summarized.

The concerns over the Milwaukee Street rail crossing include the steep grade, the angle of the crossing and the impracticality of warning devices, according to the state office.

Immich told the council that if the city acts to close the crossing, it would be eligible for $15,000 in state funds to help remove the crossing and take other safety measures there.

That could include putting curb and gutter along that portion of Western Avenue that now intersects North Milwaukee Street, and installing a berm north of the present crossing where North Milwaukee Street would become a dead end.

If the crossing is closed by the state and not by the city, the state funds would no longer be available, Immich added.

He also pointed out that the cost of installing necessary safety upgrades if the crossing stays open would be at least $25,000 if not more.

“We’ve got 2,400 cars a day that go over that crossing. Does this weigh into the decision,” Alderman Jim Sedlacek asked.

Immich admitted he has not researched the individual cases of crossing closures, including the two that were overturned, but he did point out another factor weighing against keeping the Milwaukee Street crossing open.

Closing would not create a great hardship in that through traffic would only be diverted a block or two and not several miles or more, Immich said. In addition, State 67 does not follow that section of Milwaukee Street, but instead goes around it on Carline Street.

Police Chief Jeff Tauscheck noted that the number of crashes at the intersection of Milwaukee Street, Main Street and Western Avenue declined after the block of East Main between Caroline and Milwaukee – which created a five-way intersection – was closed a number of years ago.

Alderman Charles Hansen reported hearing from several constituents about semis going north through the city backing up traffic while trying to turn from East Mill Street onto Caroline Street. He said the concern was the problem would be exacerbated if Milwaukee Street is closed and more semis and large vehicles have to follow the State 67 route.

“That happens at a lot of intersections in the city,” Tauscheck said of the problem with semis turning. “That’s not an isolated corner for that. That traffic pattern has been there for years.”

“I’d have a hard time closing it (the crossing) mostly for the $15,000,” Sedlacek commented. “You could say that’s a little (money), but you could also say it’s a lot. The only reason I’d vote for it is so we can get $15,000 for something that’s going to happen anyway.”

Fieber pointed out that the railroad commissioner has already scheduled a hearing on the proposed closing, a hearing that has only been delayed and not cancelled.

“They’re waiting to see what happens here,” she stated.

The city attorney added that, if the council passed the preliminary resolution, the issue would also go to the Plan Commission for a recommendation to the full council.

That would be followed by a public hearing before the council at their Nov. 11 meeting. Fieber said state law requires a 40-day period before the preliminary resolution and adoption of final resolution, meaning the Nov. 11 meeting would be the earliest the council could consider the final resolution.

“I’m going to vote yes just so we can hold a public hearing,” Alderman John Nelson said of the preliminary resolution. “That gives me a chance to hear from the public.”

One alderman, Shawn Marcom, stated that he was not willing to go that far.

“I will vote no to close this,” he said of the crossing. “If there’s a chance we can keep it open, I’m going to continue to keep that chance. I’ve talked to some businesses and they’re not in favor of closing.”

Marcom was the only council member to vote against the resolution, which passed by a 7-1 vote.

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