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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Plan would add gates at 2 Granite City, Ill., railroad crossings

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An early state plan to improve two busy railroad crossings has sparked questions about who should pay for the project, even though no one knows the exact price tag yet, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports. The improvements are planned for crossings at Mockingbird Lane near Illinois Route 162 and Cargill Road at Country Place Lane. Both are in eastern Granite City about a quarter-mile apart.

Mockingbird is often used a connector between Horseshoe Lake and Maryville roads via Stratford Lane. Cargill links neighborhoods to Pontoon Road.

The state Commerce Commission is proposing revamping the signals and approaches. The projects are outlined in the agency's five-year planning document.

City Engineer Joe Juneau said the department's work usually includes adding additional lights, signs and crossing gates, "as well as changing the elevation for approaching cars."

Commerce Commission hearings are planned to figure out what improvements are needed, said agency spokeswoman Beth Bosch. She said Granite City is expected to submit construction cost estimates in April. That will help determine whether the state or city will pick up the bill. Some municipalities can receive state fuel tax money for the projects, but the number of railroad crossings to be fixed statewide makes it hard to meet every request, Bosch said.

For now, it appears Granite City may have to pay for fixes to roads leading to the crossings, with the state paying for the rest. That shouldn't pose a problem for Mockingbird, where crews are adding about $1.8 million worth of new curbs, gutters and pavement this year. Because of those improvements, only minor adjustments will have to be made, Juneau said.

However, no road improvements are planned at Cargill, which may present a problem.

City officials don't want to be stuck paying for the unknown to get a project started. "Cargill is still undefined as to what is needed, its costs and who bears that cost," Juneau said.

Alderman Don Thompson said the track owners - Alton and Southern Railway - should come up with the money for the repairs. "We want the railroad to pay," he said. "It is very expensive - the city won't be paying."

While it's too early to figure out costs, Mayor Ed Hagnauer said the city has to protect its interests.

"We need to determine how much financial contribution is needed by the city to improve the crossing," Hagnauer said. "It's an expense we are not ready for."

Bosch said the commission would peg the exact cost in coming months, putting construction in line to start in June.

People in the neighborhood around the train line said the fixes can't come fast enough.

"For safety, I think it's a good idea," said Joe Lemaster, a trustee for Mt. Zion General Baptist Church, which sits adjacent to the Mockingbird crossing.

U.S. Postal Service carrier Craig Signall, 60, said the gates are badly needed. There have been way too many close calls, he said.

"You see cars go around those gates all the time," he said. "You'll see the gates down and lights flashing, but you always have those daredevils."