State orders Milwaukee Street rail crossing closed

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff

ALMOST A YEAR and a half after a public hearing on the issue, the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads last week affirmed an order to close the North Milwaukee Street railroad crossing (above). — Review photo by Emmitt B. Feldner ALMOST A YEAR and a half after a public hearing on the issue, the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads last week affirmed an order to close the North Milwaukee Street railroad crossing (above). — Review photo by Emmitt B. Feldner PLYMOUTH – The state is giving the city six weeks, but city officials are hoping to get it pushed off until 2017.

After a nearly a year and a half wait, the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads ruled Thursday that the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad crossing of North Milwaukee Street must be closed by Aug. 31.

Administrative Law Judge David Albino agreed with OCR investigators that the crossing is unsafe and will become more so as rail traffic along the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad increases in the future.

He also agreed that the steep grades at the crossing add to the lack of safety.

“City staff feels that it is unreasonable,” to close the crossing by Aug. 31, City Administrator Brian Yerges told The Review. “We’ll probably end up complying, but it’s just a matter of timing. We’ve asked to extend the deadline to sometime in 2017.”

At a hearing in Plymouth in March, 2015, OCR officials called the crossing “terrible” and “one of the most dangerous crossings” they had seen.

City officials countered that the crossing was vital to the city and a major north-south thoroughfare. They also cited a record of only one accident at the crossing in 42 years.

Those arguments did not persuade the state officials, however.

“The lack of accidents since 1974 is more a factor of the low volume of train movement than the design of the intersection and crossing,” Albino said in his decision. “However, train traffic is changing. There is a strong likelihood that train operations will be increasing. Closing the crossing will reduce the potential of train-vehicle accidents.

The judge also rejected the contention of negative impacts on vehicle traffic and safety from closing the crossing.

“There would be minimal negative impact on motorists’ drive time, as well as emergency vehicle response time,” Albino wrote. “Milwaukee Street is a redundant crossing, and can be safely eliminated.

“The availability of parallel connecting streets is a key point of analysis in determining whether a crossing is redundant,” he continued, citing Caroline Street, Western Avenue, Elizabeth, Mill, Thayer and Grove streets nearby. “The increased travel time caused by the closure of Milwaukee Street will be minimal. Closing Milwaukee Street at the tracks will improve public safety.”

Albino ordered the city to install beam guard barricades, endof roadway markers and Milwaukee Street closed signs at both intersections no later than Aug. 31.

The city would be authorized to create a cul-de-sac on North Milwaukee Street between Elizabeth Street and the abandoned crossing.

The WSOR has until Oct. 31 to remove the crossing and approaches.

The railroad would pay for 100 percent of the cost of removing the crossing, the judge ruled. The railroad was ordered to pay 90 percent of the cost for a cul-de-sac, with the city paying the other 10 percent. The city would have to pay 100 percent of the cost of installing and maintaining the permanent barricades.

Yerges noted that the ruling allows a 15-day comment period, but also requires the city to meet with railroad officials to begin planning for the closing before the end of July, which is within the 15- day comment period.

“This whole process seems a little ridiculous, given the fact that the OCD waited this long,” to issue a ruling 16 months after the hearing on the issue, Yerges noted.

He pointed out that the city needs to enter into an agreement with an engineer to design, bid out and construct the crossing removal by the state deadline. Yerges contended that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to meet that deadline.

Yerges said he did not think the city would challenge the order to close the crossing.

“The ruling is what it is. It’s tough to argue given the grade,” at the crossing, Yerges commented. “Given that ruling, I don’t see that the city is going to challenge it in circuit court. We’ll probably end up complying, it’s just a mater of timing.”

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