(Granite City, Illinois – June 29, 2012)
Taken out of context or not, the spirit of “the public be damned” is alive and well as a basic theorem of railroad management. Take the plight of Pontoon Beach, IL for example.
One of several Illinois-side suburbs of St. Louis, MO, Pontoon Beach is doomed to be the undesired recipient of the closure of a main artery – Morrison Road – where it crosses the Union Pacific Railroad. The road, which provides the main route of access and egress for Pontoon Beach residents, runs 75% of its length through Pontoon Beach, while the crossing UPRR wants closed is in the adjacent town of Granite City, IL.
Officials representing Madison County and Chouteau Township say the closing will create numerous traffic problems for the some 1,000 residents who live along Morrison Road as well as seriously – and adversely – affecting emergency response time to the area involved.
Because the closure of the Morrison Road crossing would not only limit the community’s residents, as well as students at Southwestern Illinois College’s Sam Wolf Campus, to “one way in, one way out” status, UP’s refusal to meet with representatives of those entities is causing friction among the two cities.
Union Pacific’s purpose for desiring the closure lies in the company’s intent to expand its Mitchell Yard facility, saying that if the crossing is not closed, the resulting increase in rail traffic will translate into interminable delays for auto traffic across the tracks at Morrison Road. UPRR had said at a June 5 meeting with Granite City public works committee that they wanted to work with the community to coordinate the crossing closure, offering to provide funds for a number of Granite City projects in exchange for the city’s support of the project.
But in a letter to Madison County Board Member Helen Hawkins and Chouteau Township Supervisor Eddie Lee, Union Pacific Director of Public Affairs Wesley Lujan said the railroad would negotiate only with Granite City and not other affected entities. The letter also cancelled two planned public meetings in regard to the controversy, and caught Hawkins completely unaware of the June 5 meeting.
Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer says he has been the recipient of a number of calls from non-residents about the problem, but says “for Granite City, it may be the right thing,” even though Chouteau Township officials passed a resolution against closing the road. Supervisor Lee says he plans to approach the GC City Council, but knows UP’s “gift list” may complicate procedures