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Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Will we ever learn?

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Every person who is considering buying a house needs to clip the following list and tuck it under a magnet on their refrigerators, Guy Tridgell wrote in his column in the Southtown Star, which serve suburbs south of Chicago. While we're at it, real estate agents need to print the same thing on the backs of those glossy business cards with their Glamour Shots on the front to hammer the point home.

Our communities should post them for everyone to see at the edge of town, right next to signs with the names of favorite sons and daughters and the athletic accomplishments of the local high school.

We are calling it "The Suburban Homeowner's Declaration of Independence from Whining."

1. When I move into a "growing community," I understand slow, heavy farm equipment takes up space on the roads during spring planting.

2. Farms can smell like manure during the summer.

3. Because of the first two, farms become 24-7 operations during the fall.

4. Farmers, whose property became extremely valuable because you and I moved into new subdivisions next door, can sell their land so they can make a bundle and a developer can build a Wal-Mart.

5. Living next to an airport, a highway or a set of railroad tracks comes with issues related to noise and pollution.

6. Moving into an area that's been targeted for an airport, a highway or a set of railroad tracks comes with the risk that No. 5 could happen to me someday.

7. I fully understand the concept behind "Caveat emptor" - Latin for "Let the buyer beware."

8. When any of the above matters do not break in my favor, I relinquish my right to publicly complain and seek relief.

9. I hold these truths to be self-evident.

10. But I still want to complain, though I know no one is going to do anything to remedy my plight.

The saga of the EJ&E Railroad is our latest reminder these tenets need to be chiseled in granite and erected on giant slabs throughout our fair land. The EJ&E forms a 198-mile semicircle around Chicago, intersecting with six of the seven major railroads that traverse the country. Although the "J" has been around for more than a century, the tracks barely saw any traffic - until recently. The Canadian National Railway Co., to the tune of $300 million, bought the EJ&E almost 10 months ago, intent on using the line to relieve the freight traffic choking Chicago and its interior suburbs.

The Chicago area was practically built on the rails. Most of its residents can reasonably expect to encounter the bad things that accompany railroads. Sometimes trains are noisy. Sometimes they block the road. Sometimes they carry things - like smelly animals, flammable chemicals and assorted hazardous wastes.

That's why the surprise realization along the EJ&E that, yes, trains do run on railroad tracks is a bit hard to swallow.

Police and fire departments, which overnight saw their access from one side of town to the other restricted because of the boost in train traffic on the EJ&E, have a right to be concerned. Public safety is at issue. But when residents of a neighborhood - Prestwick in Frankfort, a community of upscale homes surrounding a private golf course, comes to mind - is up in arms because they feel their peace and quiet has been violated, it's hard to feel any sympathy. They rolled the dice on a dream home, probably because it was located next to railroad tracks and the price was right. They hit snake eyes instead. They gambled. They lost. End of story.

When the Interstate 355 south extension opened three years ago, people laughed at this six-lane road built through cornfields. But while the plans for I-355 languished during the previous decades, the pressure was on towns from developers to convert the vacant land into new homes. For the most part, they didn't take the bait. But the tollway is here now, and the shops, restaurants and more houses will come soon enough.

What you won't hear is the bellowing of complaints from folks who claim they never thought a tollway could ever be built next to them. It's a sound that we should be hearing loud and clear along the EJ&E.

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