Council on board with nixing crossing closure

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – The City Council made it unanimous Tuesday – don’t close the railroad crossing on North Milwaukee Street.

Following the lead of the Plan Commission, the council voted unanimously to reject a resolution that would close the crossing.

The closing has been ordered by the state commissioner of railroads, but that office put a public hearing on the issue on hold while the city considered taking the action on its own.

Just as before the Plan Commission, a public hearing before the council drew only opposition.

“I think it would be a shame to close that crossing,” Ron Lade, a former alderman, told the council. “Once that road is closed, you’re going to get trucks coming through (downtown) blocking streets.”

Lade related seeing semi drivers on Mill Street stopping their trucks and getting out to make sure they can get under the railroad viaduct between Caroline and Milwaukee streets, backing up traffic – a situation he predicted would only get worse if Milwaukee Street were closed off between Main and Elizabeth streets.

Disrupting a main north-south artery through the city was also a concern for Craig Schicker, interim director of Orange Cross.

The ambulance service has two units stationed on South Milwaukee Street to serve the western part of the county. Closing the rail crossing would severely slow response times to the north side of the city and areas north of the city, Schicker said.

Milwaukee Street resident Susan Phelps said closing the crossing would force all north-south traffic through the city to make an inconvenient one-block detour around it.

“I think that doesn’t make a pleasant welcome to the city,” for visitors, she feared.

City Railroad Coordinator Jerry Thompson questioned the need for the closing, based on safety and traffic issues.

“Vehicle traffic is a lot like water - it tends to take the path of least resistance,” Thompson observed. “That’s one of the reasons why you see 2,400 vehicles a day (on North Milwaukee Street). It’s a busy shortcut.”

Like Lade, he expressed concern over the impact of diverting that much traffic onto Mill Street, even if just for a block or two.

Thompson was also concerned that the change could increase traffic to the east along Eastern Avenue as well, noting that traffic counts show it is already the second-busiest surface street in the county, with a traffic count of more than 8,000 vehicles a day between North Street and South Street.

“The city and the state have spent a lot of time and money trying to route traffic out of the city. By closing that crossing you’re going to force that traffic back into downtown,” Thompson pointed out.

Matt Dochterman of Sartori Foods related his company’s opposition to closing the crossing related to safety concerns.

In addition to the difficulties it would create for milk trucks delivering to Sartori’s Main Street plant, he also pointed out that the company often runs equipment between its buildings downtown using the block of Milwaukee Street that would be closed.

Thompson said safety is not a concern at the intersection south of the crossing. He cited police statistics showing only three accidents there in the last six years, with the rail crossing not being a factor in any of them.

“This intersection may be a little bit unconventional but it is a safe one,” Thompson stated.

He said city officials must convince the commissioner of railroads why it is important to keep the Milwaukee Street artery open.

“Once you close a railroad crossing, basically you will never get it opened again,” he warned.

Director of Public Works Bill Immich noted that the crossing issue was raised as part of the state Department of Transportation’s planned project to repave State 67 in 2015.

That project is scheduled to be bid Dec. 9, according to Immich, and a delay in the final decision on the rail crossing might mean a postponement of the project.

Part of the project is meeting the state-mandated replacement of lead water service lines along the street, a project which the city might have to go ahead with on its own if the State 67 project is delayed, Immich cautioned.

With the council’s vote to deny the rail crossing closure, the commissioner of railroads is now expected to rescheduled a public hearing on the order to close.


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