Wednesday, June 11, 2014
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City considers closing Pekin Street crossing
Public hearing set for Monday

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[June 11, 2014]  LINCOLN - The city of Lincoln will hold a public hearing Monday evening, June 16, 2014 at 6 p.m. in the city council chambers on the second floor of City Hall. The purpose of the meeting will be to gather input regarding a proposal to close the Pekin Street crossing for high speed rail.

This is part of the renovation plans for the Lincoln Depot.

Tuesday evening Mayor Keith Snyder told aldermen at the committee of the whole of the Lincoln City Council that the city had officially closed on the Lincoln Depot property. He said he was expecting to have the keys to the depot building this week.

With this phase of the purchase and renovation complete, the next step will be to work to remove the added structures; namely the rail cars and cabooses that are attached to the original building.

In addition, he said the city now needs to consider what should be done about the Pekin Street crossing in relationship to the new landscape at the depot.

On Monday, an architect retained by the Illinois Department of Transportation will be in Lincoln to do a walk-through of the building to get an idea of what will need to be done to restore the depot to its original 1910 footprint.

In regard to the rail cars that are attached to the property, Snyder reminded the group that the Monticello Train Museum is interested in looking at one of the Pullman cars on the east side of the building.

He said that Alderman Kathy Horn had suggested the Whistle Stop Library in Emden might be interested in a caboose. He has contacted LaDonna Gass, who manages the Whistle Stop, and she is interested, but he will also need to talk with town officials about the proposal and he plans to do that in the near future. He was hopeful that would work out.

Snyder told aldermen that the next big decision the city has, is what to do about the Pekin Street crossing. He said IDOT has provided the city with two streetscape options. One includes keeping the Pekin Street crossing and the other does not.

Snyder said when the high speed rail committee was formed for the city of Lincoln two to three years ago, he was one who commented that he was open to suggestions as long as the Pekin Street crossing remained open. He said for himself personally, Pekin Street is the best route from his home to city hall, and he uses that crossing at least a couple of times a day.

However, traffic studies have shown he is in the minority. Of all the crossings going into the downtown area, Pekin Street is the one least traveled. In a document with talking points in favor of closing Pekin, the traffic study results showed the following number of crossings per day:

Decatur Street - 2,050 vehicles per day
Clinton Street - 3,550 vehicles per day
Pulaski Street - 2,100 vehicles per day
Broadway - 6,200 vehicles per day
Pekin - 1,500 vehicles per day
Tremont - 1,700 vehicles per day
Keokuk - 12,300 vehicles per day

Snyder said if Pekin stays open, when trains stop in Lincoln, it is nearly a certainty that both Pekin and Broadway will be blocked while the train loads and unloads passengers. However, if Pekin is closed, a 500 feet long platform will be constructed from Broadway to the north, and trains will be able to load and unload passengers without blocking Broadway, so traffic will not be disrupted there.

If Pekin is closed, the plans provided by IDOT include adding parking space as well as recreating the green space around the depot. He said Amtrak says that 443,500 people pass through Lincoln each year on the train. He said the added landscaping design would greatly enhance the overall impression those on the train have of Lincoln.

In addition, the city would benefit financially from allowing the closure of the crossing. Snyder explained when communities support closing a crossing, the State of Illinois provides “financial incentives” because they will no longer have to maintain the crossing gates at that location.

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Snyder said he’d been advised the city would be offered “upwards of $400,000” by Union Pacific if they support closing Pekin Street. In addition, the Illinois Commerce Commission automatically pays $75,000 for each closed crossing. Snyder said he expected the city would end up receiving over $500,000 if they close Pekin Street.

In his talking points he listed a number of things that could be done with that money:

Closure mitigation – (neighboring property owners may request assistance in adapting to the crossing closure) Snyder added to this saying he had already spoken personally to one property owner and will be talking with another in the near future.

Tourist attraction investments – (contribute the remaining balance for the Lincoln speech statue and commission two other statues – one for the depot grounds and one for Postville Courthouse) he noted the Lincoln Statue Committee was $19,000 from reaching their goal for the new statue on the Logan County Courthouse lawn. He said the city could fill that gap from this money. In addition, he said right now the depot has the watermelon, but he thought it would be nice to have a Lincoln Statue as part of the new landscape. He also noted it would be nice to have another Lincoln at Postville Courthouse. The city could fund both of those with these dollars.

Downtown decorative lighting – (acquire and install all the decorative lighting for the Pulaski Street and theater streetscape blocks) at the moment, the city does not have the money to fully complete the downtown revitalization projects that will begin in the near future. To keep the work within budget, the new decorative lighting for Pulaski Street has been eliminated from the plan. Snyder said with this extra cash in city coffers, that lighting could be installed.

Also, the city will have to provide some local cash for the Depot restoration. While IDOT is going to foot the lion’s share of the bill, they are asking for a small percentage of local cash. Snyder said the incentive dollars could be used to provide the local match.

Snyder asked the council to approve holding a public hearing on all this next Monday evening at 6 p.m. He said the architect from IDOT would be available to make a presentation regarding the two plans, and the public would be encouraged to attend and offer their input on the matter.

Snyder said he wanted to put the item on the agenda for voting Monday night. However, he added, the council would not actually vote at that time. He recommended the council adjourn Monday night, and call a special voting session for 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24. This would allow the public and the council time to digest the information they were given, and allow the council members time to hear from their constituents on the topic. The aldermen agreed with this.

Finally, Snyder said what the city decides will not be the final word on the subject. If the city votes to close, the request will then go back to a federal agency and will be subject to examination for compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA will then host more public hearings, and will do assessments of the impact of the closing on the community as well as the environment. In the end that process will determine whether or not IDOT and the city can move forward with the closure.


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