Compromise reached on Morrison Road rail crossing

News-DemocratSeptember 8, 2013 

— A compromise has been reached in the dispute over a railroad's plans to close Morrison Road.

Union Pacific declared its intention last year to close the Morrison Road crossing near Granite City in order to put in a switching yard for as many as four lines.

But Morrison Road was the primary access out of the Long Lake neighborhood commonly known as Tanktown, named after the large storage tanks that used to be seen along the roads. Without that crossing, residents will have to travel the long way around the L-shaped bend onto Lake Drive, which then changes its name to Breckenridge Lane before it reaches Pontoon Road.

Residents protested the railroad's plans, with more than 1,000 signatures on petitions and hearings before the Illinois Commerce Commission. City officials and fire chiefs from several area municipalities and fire districts testified that closing the road would cause delays in emergency-vehicle access and would make getting in and out of the neighborhood difficult, particularly when the roads are flooded.

But after the ICC hearings, Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer said a compromise was reached with Union Pacific.

"We had a sense on which way it was going to go," Hagnauer said. "At that time we thought it would be best to settle with them."

The compromise: a service road connecting Tanktown directly to Pontoon Road, parallel to the train tracks. The $2.3 million cost will be shared, with Union Pacific paying at least half.

The remainder will be split among Madison County, Granite City, Pontoon Beach, Nameoki Township and the state.

The ICC had not issued its final ruling. Union Pacific representatives could not be reached for comment.

The Madison County Board approved its $500,000 share at its meeting last month. Drainage improvement to lessen flooding also will be part of the plan, Hagnauer said.

"We think it was favorable for everybody," he said. "It's not everything that we wanted, but it gives the people there an access to Pontoon Road without being hindered by water."

Hagnauer said they met with neighbors and most were pleased with the idea. "I think the majority of people will be happy," he said.

Even if the road had been left open, Hagnauer said, the switching yard would have made life very difficult for residents. Recent changes in the law eliminated a requirement that railroads can only tie up an intersection for 15-20 minutes.

Now there is no limit, he said, so they could have blocked the road for 45 minutes to an hour or more.

"We didn't want the railroad to close (Morrison Road) because of safety issues, but when the railroad wants something, it's going to happen," said County Board member Helen Hawkins, who joined with the residents to lobby the ICC in 20 hours of hearings.

Resident Sue Archer, who helped organize the residents to protest the move, said they will be happy -- as long the road is built.

"We would love to have the overpass, but we'll be thankful for the road, if they'll put it in," Archer said. "We need another road to get out for safety. ... You have to be careful to pick your time to go down Breckenridge now."

The crossing is now closed, she said, and all the traffic that used to move on Morrison Road is now on Breckenridge, a narrow residential street with stop signs and potholes. The delivery trucks for Amvets Post 51 now travel along Breckenridge as well, Archer said, along with the construction traffic for the railroad.

"Everyone in Tanktown will be happy if they will get the road they've promised us," Archer said. "But it's just not right. Big companies like the railroad just don't care about the little people."

Dunstan pointed out that the railroad originally offered a settlement to Granite City, but Hagnauer held out for more money and a better solution even though the impacted residents largely live outside the city limits. "He went out of his way to work with the township. ... They could have taken the money and run," Dunstan said. "They wanted to make sure there is a second access in and out of that area."

Hagnauer said the assistance they received from the county, other municipal leaders and state Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, and Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, helped get the money they needed, including the contribution from the state. "We all came together," he said.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at edonald@bnd.com or 239-2507.

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