Say farewell to Milwaukee Street as through street

MILWAUKEE STREET WILL NO longer be a straight shot as a north-south way through the city of Plymouth.

Instead, drivers will have to head east on Elizabeth Street one block, south two blocks on Caroline and back west on Mill one block to get through the city – the same way drivers who have followed the official route of State 67 for decades have travelled.

The state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads ruled last week that the railroad crossing on North Milwaukee Street, between Western Avenue and Elizabeth Street, must be closed, saying that the crossing is unsafe and will become even more so as rail traffic on the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad is expected to increase in the future.

While the ruling was not unexpected – OCR staff termed the crossing “terrible” and “one of the most dangerous crossings” they had seen – what is galling to city staff is the timetable the OCR has given the city and the railroad to remove the crossing.

The hearing on the request by WSOR to close the crossing was held in March 2015, but the ruling did not come until last week – 16 months later.

Yet in the ruling, the OCR ordered the crossing closed by Aug. 31 – just six weeks away.

As City Administrator Brian Yerges pointed out, that doesn’t give the city sufficient time to engineer, design, bid out and complete the crossing removal. Yerges termed that “unreasonable” and “ridiculous” - an accurate assessment.

The city will be asking for an extension of the deadline to sometime in 2017 and it’s a request that should be granted without question or delay.

Rail traffic may well increase on the line in the future, but the volume of traffic is not there yet to warrant an immediate removal.

Whenever the closing comes, there is no denying it will cause some hardships for local drivers. It will add a few blocks to the trip across town, but most will be able to make the adjustment.

The main concern will be large trucks and tractor-trailers going through the city on State 67 having to make additional turns on downtown streets. The state Department of Transportation might want to consider creating a new truck route for State 67 that would utilize State 23, State 67 and County PP to bypass city streets for north-south through trucks.

The city had the opportunity to maintain Milwaukee Street as a through street eight years ago, but declined.

The DOT was doing preliminary planning for the State 67 reconstruction project in the city at that time and proposed an alternative routing that would have curved Milwaukee Street to the west south of Elizabeth Street, creating a T-intersection with Western Avenue between Elizabeth and Main streets.

Because that block of Milwaukee Street was not part of the official State 67, the cost of the new intersection could not be covered under the state funding, meaning the city would have been required to cover the cost.

The City Council at the time, in the midst of a City Hall renovation project and at the beginning of planning for a new Plymouth Utilities operations center, was reluctant to take on that fiscal challenge as well – estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000, if not more.

With uncertainty as well about potential remediation costs, since the new street would have gone over the former Goetsch service station property, the council decided not to go ahead.

Hindsight, of course, is always more perfect than foresight, but there are certain to be times in the future when city residents will wish the council had found a way back then to get it done.

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