South Central Reporter

South Central Reporter

Sunday, January 26, 2020

City of Centralia City Council met November 19

By Michael Abella | Jan 16, 2020


City of Centralia City Council met Nov. 19.

Here is the minutes provided by the council:

The City Council for Centralia, Illinois met on Tuesday November 19, 2019, for a Work Session to discuss the Railroad Feasibility Study. Mayor Williams called the Work Session to order at 6:00 p.m.

Present: Mayor Williams, Councilman Jones, Councilman Sauer, and Councilman Marshall

Absent: Councilman Smith

Staff Present: City Manager, Dan Ramey; Assistant City Manager, Kala Lambert; City Clerk, and Kim Enke

City Manager Ramey introduced Aaron Weatherholt from Hanson Engineering that prepared the Railroad Consolidation Feasibility Study. City Manager Ramey discussed the history and role the railroads played in the incorporation of the City of Centralia. He stated that the degree in the curve that goes across Locust, Elm, and Poplar has been a major issue that has actually caused deaths in past years due to the delay in the curve. He stated that there are 3 sets of tracks that are south of Centralia that includes CN, Burlington Northern, & Norfolk Southern railroad companies. He stated that on the two one way streets there is an average 4,700 – 5,000 cars that cross the tracks and 14-15 trains per day which leads to the back up issue that is the concern. He stated that the City has been addressing this issue for over 30 years. He recognized Jim Adams, who in the past suggested the idea to keep the trains on the tracks but go further south to the overpass. He stated that the City’s past Mayors have met with IDOT, railroad companies, and State Representatives in Centralia and Springfield but nothing has been accomplished unfortunately due to the railroads having control of their tracks and not working together. He noted his concern for safety due to the location of the Industrial Park and Wamac which are located on the south side of the tracks. He stated that receiving emergency services and reaching the hospital on the other side of the tracks quickly, if needed in case of emergency, is a concern. He stated that there are alternate routes to get around the blocked tracks but that is approximately an additional 10 minutes of travel out of the way that could be critical. He stated that the Council has continued to attempt to get this done, they have met with the State of Illinois, and IDOT has now provided the grant to do the engineering to review the alternatives. He stated that the information provided is a presentation of many alternatives which includes options for realignment, overpasses underpasses and the last option of realigning the track with a gradual curve. He stated that the gradual curve doesn’t eliminate the blockage but does get the trains through quicker than only 10 MPH. He reiterated that this is a preliminary report that the Council has to review. He stated that he doesn’t want this to just be another report. He wants to make it happen. He noted that the City may not be able to get the full funding amount, but hopes the City can determine what grants are available and choose the alternative that will ensure safety and emergency vehicle access if needed. He stated there are multiple grants that could be utilized including U.S. DOT and Build America Grants in addition to IDOT STP, STU, EDP funds, and the Governor’s Build Illinois funds. He noted that Kala Lambert has placed the drawings provided by Hanson on the easels around the room that he encouraged them to be reviewed and encouraged any comments or questions to be asked during the presentation as well.

Aaron Weatherholt presented multiple alternatives from the feasibility study in a PowerPoint with options the City could move forward with. He noted that this study is a foundation of information that can be used to build upon.

He stated that they looked at the options presented several years ago that included the North Alternative. This alternative would be to remove the Norfolk Southern rail line and run it concurrently with the BNSF under US 51 and then turn east at Trust Road that then ties back into the existing alignment near Walnut Hill. He stated that this would require building drainage structures along the new alignment and new ballast and track to be built. He stated that it would create 5 new crossings but those are rural and have lower average daily traffic, and lower exposure to crashes as well. He stated that there are additional options within this alternative. The preferred option would be to run BNSF and Norfolk Southern on their own existing rail lines all the way underneath and separate. He stated that if that would not work due to some issues the other alternative would be to run them concurrently and then split right before the US 51 bridge. He stated that the existing track would be presumed to be removed, but it is their property and unless the City were to buy the property and track, it would be up to them to remove it or not. He stated that there are several advantages which includes not requiring grade separation, eliminating the conflicts at Poplar and Locust, and has fewer residential displacements. He did note that the City would need to purchase several agricultural properties with this option though. He stated that there is a rail spur behind the Ameren property and the feasibility study doesn’t include investigation to determine how much or often this spur is used. He stated that the feasibility study doesn’t include broad coordination with railroads, property owners, or the EPA. If this alternative moved to a Phase 1 it would need to be coordinated to determine if it is used, if it can be abandoned, or if it is used consider the possibility of keeping the line open and servicing the spur backwards by Norfolk Southern. The North Alternative is estimated to cost $18.5M and if the modification of the structure is required to run the tracks side by side, it would cost approximately another $7M for a total of $25M. The next alternative is the South Alternative which is similar to the North Alternative except the tracks continue further South and separate to tie back in again. He stated that there is a large amount of residential, more tree removal required, and issues with concurrent/side by side rail that would be required to be addressed. He stated that with both of these options there is a fair amount of space under the bridge at US 51 but under the current design standards they require more space and service roads. He stated that according to the current design standards, Hanson doesn’t feel that there is enough space to run two sets of rails under the bridge. He stated that there is more detail in the report that explains this. He stated that the cost of this alternative is $26.7M for construction and if the structure at US 51 was required it would be approximately a total of $39M. He presented the next 4 sets of options which were the northbound overpass or underpass or southbound overpass or underpass. He stated that these are basically the same options but the construction limits change as well as the lengths and this effects the change in cost. He stated that these options fill the needs of the City to provide access north and south bound to the industrial area and for emergency services. He stated that to build only the northbound overpass it would be approximately $5.2M, a northbound underpass would be $7.6M, a southbound overpass would be $4.8M, and the southbound underpass would be $7M. He stated that these costs don’t include the Phase 1 and Phase 2 preliminary engineering costs for environmental, public involvement, or design plans. He stated this option does solve the problems, it eliminates a lot of issues with the rail companies, and the US 51 bridge issues. He stated that Hanson also developed other options that were variations of the underpasses and overpasses. He stated that they also proposed that one crossing be closed, one overpass or underpass be built along with creating two way traffic and connecting roads with further traffic control coordination. He stated that this could be inverted by putting the overpass or underpass on the other crossing or there is also an option to leave it open as an at-grade crossing. He stated the cost is basically limited to the underpass or overpass cost if the crossing remains open. He stated that since the southbound doesn’t have gates, if the southbound was left open, the City would possibly want to work with the Illinois Commerce Commission to get gates and protection for the crossing. He stated that the cheapest combination of options would be constructing a southbound overpass and leave the crossing open to traffic without connecting roads since there would be free flowing traffic. Councilman Sauer questioned if the single overpass or underpass option would cost the same amount of money even if it carries the north and south traffic. Mr. Weatherholt stated that it could be one lane each direction or a three lane cross section with a bidirectional turn lane down the middle to eliminate left turn conflicts. Councilman Sauer questioned if one lane each direction would be sufficient and Mr. Weatherholt stated that it would and they also found that there would be adequate space for on street parking. Mr. Weatherholt presented the final options stating that they could be separate options or be included in addition to other alternatives. He stated that these would change the curvature of the tracks in order to speed up the trains and reduce but not eliminate the blocked crossings. He explained that the higher degree of curvature makes the curve tighter and the 9 degree curve would increase the speed to 15-20 MPH from 10 MPH. He stated that it would require coordination with BNSF and the cost is estimated at $1.83M but it doesn’t solve the problem, it only reduces the delay. He explained other curvature changes including changing to a 5 degree curve at the cost of $5M and additional options to change the use of the railways by the railroad companies to require them to run together with a flatter curvature with the addition of a faster switch that would increase the speed up to 30-40 MPH. This option would be an additional $4M on top of the other costs. He again reiterated that the curvature options will not eliminate the problem but only reduce it. He discussed the displacements and stated that there is a table in the report that explains the environmental issues that will need to be handled at the Phase 1 and Phase 2 parts of the process. He noted that there are a lot of funding options as the City Manager also explained. He stated that there would be further phases of engineering. There was further discussion and questions to compare the alternatives and options presented. City Manager Ramey discussed the overpass and under pass options and stated that this alternative would be less costly and doesn’t require coordinating with the railroad companies or closures for construction. He stated that further discussions and research needs to be done before deciding on which of the overpass and underpass options to pursue for grants. He estimated that with all of the phases of engineering, the cost would be approximately $6.5M for one overpass or underpass and if the grants were available two would be considered as well. He added that getting one is at least better than the current situation. Councilman Sauer questioned the Northern or Southern alternatives, noting the disadvantages and the cost of these options that were much higher than the overpass/underpass alternatives. He asked for Mr. Weatherholt’s opinion if funding would be given for the Northern or Southern Alternative when it is approximately $15M more and it is feasible to solve the problem with the overpass/underpass options. Mr. Weatherholt stated that one of the biggest issues is the funding source. He explained that the city would be pursuing funding from IDOT or the State to relocate a privately owned company’s rail lines and finding funding is more difficult and time is also an issue. Councilman Sauer questioned the likelihood of receiving funds for a much more expensive project as the City Manager also pointed out. Mr. Weatherholt stated that when a problem can be solved with less expenditure and still a quality solution, the project is going to be more attractive for funding sources. Councilman Sauer questioned how far out the lights would be able to be seen in order to avoid the crossing. Mr. Weatherholt stated that warning signals could be placed ahead of the crossing that would be activated when there was a train blocking the crossing. He explained that the sign will state that there is a train on the tracks so drivers could avoid the blocked crossing. He stated that the signal would cost approximately $100,000. Councilman Jones stated that it appears that there is a better chance to get the funding for an overpass. He stated that the other options are going to require cooperation by the privately owned rail companies. He also noted that the curve alternatives are not going to solve the problem and it appears to him that the overpasses are the best options. Mr. Weatherholt also noted that any realignment of the tracks would have to be funded through USDOT and not IDOT. He also added that there would need to be coordination required with IDOT and AASHTO for route marking and USDOT if route markings are removed or moved. Councilman Sauer stated that with the single overpass option there would be only one lane of traffic for a short distance on Hwy 51. He asked if that would be allowed. Mr. Weatherholt stated that an analyses was not completed concerning that, but as long as the average daily traffic supports the highway network then it would be okay and he confirmed that 9,000 – 10,000 cars a day is typical for an urban roadway. He stated that a lot of the local traffic could also still use the at-grade crossing. Councilman Sauer asked what the typical timeframe would be for the project. Mr. Weatherholt stated that the Phase 1, depending on complexity, could take between 12 and 24 months. Phase 2 is typically another 24 months but Phase 1 & Phase 2 could possibly be done concurrently to save time. He stated that if funding was aligned, construction could start in 24-30 months but the funding is the key. He stated that the overpass option is a reasonable approach. Councilman Marshall asked how the property owners would be effected in the areas of construction. City Manager Ramey stated that the homes would be appraised and the property owners would be treated very fairly for displacement. Mr. Weatherholt stated that the property owners are covered under the uniform act and would be provided fair compensation. He added that there are a lot of protections and the past practices of taking the properties for nothing is no longer allowed. He stated that during Phase 1, the alternatives would be presented and public comments would be obtained at that time. City Manager Ramey stated that a portion of or all of the Phase 1 could also possibly be funded. He stated that this report is very detailed and he thinks if the Council acts aggressively, he feels the state will contribute to this needed project through various funding or combinations of funding. Councilman Jones asked what the goals are at this time. City Manager Ramey stated that the options need to be considered and narrowed down further, then once it is narrowed down the funding will need to be obtained. He stated that there is a possibility that the project may not get funded initially, but the City has to continue to try to show the safety and transportation concerns due to the train crossings. He stated that IDOT is aware of the issues and must feel that it is important enough since they provided the funds for the study. He anticipates that this project could be done in the next 5 years. Mayor Williams asked where the City must go from here. Mr. Weatherholt stated that funding should be the next step and further communication with IDOT is necessary. He stated that this feasibility study will be sent to IDOT for their review as well.

With no further business to discuss, the Work Session was adjourned at 7:18 p.m.

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City of Centralia Council