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updated: 5/2/2014 7:47 PM

Milwaukee Avenue closure begins in downtown Libertyville for rail crossing repairs

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  • Video: Repairs impact businesses

  • Milwaukee Avenue is closed in downtown Libertyville for emergency rail crossing repair. The project is supposed to take five days.

       Milwaukee Avenue is closed in downtown Libertyville for emergency rail crossing repair. The project is supposed to take five days.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Concrete is cut to remove the existing section of the rail crossing on Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Libertyville on Friday. Milwaukee Avenue at the crossing will be closed for five days.

       Concrete is cut to remove the existing section of the rail crossing on Milwaukee Avenue in downtown Libertyville on Friday. Milwaukee Avenue at the crossing will be closed for five days.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

  • Drivers find alternate routes Friday in downtown Libertyville due to the Milwaukee Avenue road closure for emergency rail crossing repairs.

       Drivers find alternate routes Friday in downtown Libertyville due to the Milwaukee Avenue road closure for emergency rail crossing repairs.
    Paul Valade | Staff Photographer

 
 

Friends Joanne Fraser and Page Webb had the front sitting room area at Hansa Coffee Roasters to themselves, unusual for a Friday afternoon, but perhaps an indicator of what's to come the next few days for many businesses in downtown Libertyville.

"This place is usually packed and it's not," said Webb, a Libertyville resident and regular Hansa customer.

About five hours earlier, at 9 a.m., Milwaukee Avenue just outside Hansa was closed and traffic sent on lengthy detours until about noon Wednesday while the Metra rail crossing is replaced in what was described as an emergency repair. Pedestrian traffic and vehicles are prohibited from crossing.

While it was too soon to get a sense of the full impact of the closure, it was a rare Friday afternoon in that one could walk across usually busy Milwaukee Avenue virtually unfettered.

While local traffic was allowed, barricades and a police presence at Winchester Road to the north of the crossing and at Newberry Avenue on the south left some businesses in between those points and the tracks feeling cut off.

"It's already disrupting business," said Tina Richardson, co-owner of Mischief's Brewing adjacent to the tracks on the south. "They're directing people away from this whole section."

Police Chief Clint Herdegen said anyone who tells police they are local or on their way to a business is waved through.

"It's a difficult situation because there's no way to keep everybody happy," Herdegen said. "The businesses are very important to us."

He added there was frustration on the part of drivers, village employees and business operators. "Nobody is untouched," he said.

The perceived lack of access appeared to be have an effect at Libertyville Cyclery across the street from Hansa on the north side of the tracks.

"Hardly anybody is coming in. You can roll a bowling ball down here," general manager Jim O'Connell said. "Yesterday, we were swamped."

Pedestrian traffic in the heart of the downtown area south of the tracks and the Metra station was also light Friday afternoon. The damp, cold weather could have contributed to the odd calm in the normally bustling downtown.

Pat Patterson, owner of the popular Casa Bonita restaurant at Lake Street and Milwaukee Avenue, said he had not seen a lunch as slow as Friday -- even in midwinter -- and predicted a "huge effect" on his business during the project.

"It's going to hurt the businesses in this town. This town thrives on Friday and Saturday night -- places pay their rent with the Friday and Saturday night sales," he said.

Just down the street at Shakou Libertyville, co-owner Aleks Dupor said lunch wasn't badly affected and dinner reservations were "pretty good," but he would be interested to see what happened with walk-in evening traffic.

"Just hope for the best, really," he said.

What the night would bring for many was in question. MainStreet Libertyville, a downtown revitalization group, was sponsoring its First Friday event.

"First Fridays are huge for Libertyville. I don't think anybody knows what to expect," said Sandy Washburn, an employee at Oh, Olive!, a store offering premium olive oil and balsamic vinegars.

Mischief's Brewing was hosting a book club Friday night, a singer/guitarist Saturday and an open mic night Tuesday. Richardson and co-owner Tina Richardson said everyone involved in the project was being as considerate as possible.

"An emergency is an emergency," she said. "We don't want a train accident."

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