Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Illinois Commerce Commission Orders Rail Crossing at Walter Strawn in Elwood Closed

The Illinois Commerce Commission ruled today that the rail crossing at Walter Strawn Road and Route 53 must be closed.

Video of closed Walter Strawn Drive in Elwood:
The Village of Elwood released the following press release after the ruling:

"After a year-long battle, the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) unanimously ruled today that the state’s most dangerous rail crossing, located at Route 53 and Walter Strawn Drive in the Village of Elwood, must be closed within two weeks, no later than January 28th, 2015.

Joining the Village in support of closing the crossing have been the Illinois Department of Transportation, Union Pacific Railroad, and staff at the Illinois Commerce Commission – the agency that governs rail crossing safety across Illinois. The decision came despite the efforts of intermodal facility owner CenterPoint Properties, which argued to keep the crossing open despite the myriad of safety concerns.

“Despite the special interests and clout, justice has finally prevailed today,” said Elwood Police Chief Fred Hayes. “We are pleased that the ICC Board agrees with the Village of Elwood, the railroad companies and transportation authorities that safety is Priority #1. This ruling will help us keep our residents, commuters, and truckers safe on our streets and shows respect to our fallen heroes. Ultimately, this decision will save lives.”

Due to the 8,000 trucks that pass through the area each day, the troubled crossing has been the site of several accidents and near-misses in recent years, with more than 50 crossing gates smashed by semi-tractor trailer trucks in 2013 alone. In June, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs also decried the crossing, noting that the heavy truck traffic on Route 53 consistently cuts off the 15 to 20 funeral processions of deceased veterans en route to the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery each day. The practice leads to frequent separations of mourning parties from the procession and, in some cases, causing loved ones to miss the interment of those who have honorably served our nation.

In June 2014, the Chicago Tribune profiled the issue as part of a front-page story entitled: “Small town fights big time truck traffic.”

Elwood, which began requesting that the rail crossing close since the ICC opened the investigation in November 2013, had been involved in an evidentiary hearing in front of an administrative law judge for several months before today’s decision was handed down. At the close of the hearing in December, Chief Administrative Law Judge Latrice Kirkland-Montague issued a recommendation to the full ICC to close the crossing despite vehement objections from CenterPoint Properties, calling it an “immediate safety concern.”

CenterPoint argued that closing the crossing would disrupt commerce and negatively impact the corporation’s bottom line and only offered short-term solutions.

“This ruling proves that, despite the enormous financial resources they put forward, CenterPoint could not hide the fact that this crossing posed a real and immediate danger, not only to the people of Elwood, but to the truckers that CenterPoint employs and Amtrak passengers who ride the train,” continued Hayes. “We are proud to have fought to protect our residents and ensure that those who are mourning the loss of our beloved veterans can safely and simply travel to Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery.”

While some safety improvements had been implemented during the past year, including slowing the closing of crossing gates and adding part-time police officers to monitor traffic at the crossing, the ICC determined efforts to mitigate danger fell short.

“No evidence was introduced by any party [during the hearings] as to traffic signal changes, traffic management revisions or railroad warning device changes or additions that would eliminate the safety concerns as between rail traffic, vehicular traffic, and the funeral processions,” Kirkland-Montague wrote in the order. “The conflict between vehicle traffic at and near the Strawn Road Crossing with funeral processions creates an immediate safety concern. In order to remedy this immediate safety concern, temporary closure of the crossing is necessary.”

In addition to the shattered crossing gates, an 8-year-old girl was killed after a collision with a truck nearby, which also left her sister seriously injured. In 2012, an Amtrak passenger train nearly collided with a stalled semi-truck.

Last spring, the Village released a police squad camera video that captured a truck crashing through rail crossing gates at Walter Strawn Drive. Watch the video here:"

Will County News spoke with Chief Hayes regarding traffic near Elwood in the summer of 2014:

CenterPoint released the following statement following the ruling:

"OAK BROOK, IL – Today the Illinois Commerce Commission voted to close the rail crossing at Route 53 and Walter Strawn Drive on an interim basis due to safety concerns. The ICC ruling calls for the crossing to be closed no later than January 28. While we respect the ICC’s decision, we will continue to evaluate the intersection at Strawn and Route 53, as well as other intersections in and around the CenterPoint Intermodal Center (CIC), to ensure the continued safety of the park as it continues to develop.

The Illinois Department of Transportation shares our concern and filed a letter on December 23, 2014 to the Administrative Law Judge expressing belief that “the alternates to the closure of the Walter Strawn Drive railroad crossing are viable and worth reconsideration” and calling for an impact study prior to the closure of the crossing.

CenterPoint’s primary concern, along with the other parties represented, has always been safety. The Village of Elwood has repeatedly attempted to portray CenterPoint as an obstacle in the effort to develop a safe, long-term solution to the traffic issues at the CIC, and particularly at Walter Strawn Drive. This is patently false.

CenterPoint continues to believe that closing Walter Strawn Drive will create hazardous conditions in areas not currently suited to handle the capacity of industrial traffic.  Without conducting a regional traffic impact study to consider the effects of displaced traffic, we are convinced the displacement of thousands of vehicles each day from the closed crossing, without a defined route in place to access the Intermodal Center, will cause more damage and harm on regional traffic, resulting in unwanted and potentially hazardous situations.

During the ICC hearings, CenterPoint defended continued access to Walter Strawn Drive with the inclusion of several features and upgrades to improve the crossing in order to ensure regional safety. In her recommendation to the ICC, the Administrative Law Judge Latrice Kirkland-Montague noted that CenterPoint has made efforts to increase safety at the crossing, including:
·       Posting billboards encouraging the use of I-55 and Arsenal Road as a primary entrance to the CenterPoint Intermodal Center
·       Initiating efforts to station Will County Sherriff escorts for funeral processions
·       Meeting with tenants and issuing letters to encourage the use of I-55 and Arsenal Road
·       Coordinating with traffic experts and the director of the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery in an attempt to develop an alternate funeral procession route

CenterPoint believes it is imprudent to close the crossing without studying the implications of displaced traffic from Walter Strawn Drive, the safety issues that could impact surrounding local and regional thoroughfares, and the impact on the businesses who have spent millions establishing operations within the Village of Elwood and the City of Joliet.

Therefore, CenterPoint continues to recommend that the most sensible course of action to ensure public safety is to carry on the ICC’s process and allow for traffic safety experts to evaluate both short-term and long-term alternatives. The docket on the ICC case remains open, and CenterPoint will continue work with all appropriate parties to analyze and evaluate traffic safety improvements, such as alternate routes and other technologies. Safety has always been the highest priority in the development of the CIC. We remain committed to being a good corporate neighbor and protecting our investment in the economy and infrastructure of the region.

The CIC-Joliet/Elwood, located on more than 6,500 acres stretching from Elwood to Joliet, is the largest and one of the most successful inland ports in North America. Located 40 miles southwest of Chicago, the facility is strategically positioned at the epicenter of the region’s immense transportation infrastructure.

Over the past 15 years, CenterPoint has invested more than $1.5 billion in the CIC-Joliet/Elwood, resulting in job creation and tax support for the community. The development has resulted in more than $7 million per year in new property taxes for the Village and a total investment in the Village of Elwood of more than $800 million. Direct benefits to the community, worth tens of millions of dollars, funded primarily by CenterPoint, include road improvements; support for police and fire services; expansion of public utilities, including a new water and wastewater treatment plant; a Village water tower and a Village park.

Statement attributable to Michael Murphy, Chief Development Officer, CenterPoint Properties

About CenterPoint Properties
CenterPoint Properties is focused on the development, acquisition and management of industrial property and transportation infrastructure that enhances business and government supply chain efficiency. The company invests in major coastal and inland port logistics markets anchoring North America’s principal freight lanes. CenterPoint‘s portfolio includes 45.5 million square feet and 6,000 acres under development in the company’s integrated intermodal industrial parks. For more information on CenterPoint Properties, visit or follow @centerpointprop on Twitter."