Wheaton approves rail crossing closure, underpass near college
The Union Pacific Railroad has received permission to permanently close a rail crossing and install a pedestrian underpass south of Wheaton College.
In a 3-2 vote, Wheaton City Council members agreed to vacate the portion of Chase Street's right of way that crosses the Union Pacific tracks.
That decision, along with recent Illinois Commerce Commission approval, clears the way for Union Pacific to build crossover tracks at Chase Street.
With the elimination of the vehicular crossing, Union Pacific will build a $3 million pedestrian tunnel so college students and others can cross the tracks safely. Work on the tunnel is expected to start next year.
Before Monday's vote, city officials said Union Pacific representatives told them installing crossover tracks in Wheaton and Lombard will greatly improve the flow of freight and passenger traffic through DuPage County. The crossover allow trains to move from one of set of tracks to another.
"They (Union Pacific officials) believe there will be about a 50 percent reduction in the number of freight and passenger delays that are occurring within the community," City Manager Don Rose said.
Still, not everyone on the city council was convinced closing the crossing is a good idea. Councilmen Todd Scalzo and Howard Levine opposed vacating the right of way.
"I think it's hard enough getting across the tracks as it is," Levine said. "One less avenue to do so is not going to make it any better."
Roughly 800 cars and trucks use the Chase Street rail crossing daily, officials said.
Meanwhile, Scalzo said the city should have done its own research on the potential benefits of the project.
"The benefits that were listed were all representations of the railroad," he said. "As a matter of due diligence, we should have researched it a little on our own to come to our own conclusions."
Union Pacific is seeking roughly $1.8 million from the Illinois Commerce Commission to help pay for the underpass. The rest of the cost is expected to be paid by Union Pacific and Metra. The city will not have to contribute.