Thursday, June 19, 2014
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Citizens express opposition to closing Pekin Street

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[June 19, 2014]  LINCOLN - Monday evening the weekly meeting of the Lincoln City Council began with a public hearing regarding a proposal to permanently close the Pekin Street crossing for high speed rail.

In the chamber gallery there were several in attendance to watch the proceedings. Of the group a small handful chose to address the council, all in opposition of closing Pekin Street.

The hearing began with Mayor Keith Snyder introducing Carrie Desmond and Bruce Nelson of Parsons Brinkerhoff. Their firm has been retained by the Illinois Department of Transportation to work specifically with train station development for high speed rail.

Nelson did most of the speaking and began by offering a brief description of each of the two proposals the city is being asked to consider. He noted at the start that both concept plans are acceptable to IDOT, and will meet the needs of high-speed rail.

He noted the new design with leaving Pekin Street open would involve taking away the current waiting station and turning the north end of the original depot building into the actual Amtrak station. The design would include creating a park-like green space around the depot, removing the structures and rail cars that have been added since the depot was originally built, creating an off street passenger drop-off point and adding ADA parking near the station.

He also noted the development of 24 hour parking spaces on the west side of the track.

Turning to the plan that includes closing Pekin Street, he noted that the depot structure and the green space around the building would not change a great deal. He pointed out a change in the size and shape of the drop-off point in front of the station and said there would be more parking added on the west side.

The most important part of the two plans that the council is being asked to consider revolves around the safety and convenience for motorists when trains are stopped at the station for on and off loading of passengers. Nelson said the plan to leave Pekin Street open would result in a 255 feet long loading platform adjacent to the depot building. With that platform, he said trains stopping at the station, which are expected to be 500 to 600 feet long, would undoubtedly block both Pekin and Broadway during their stops.

If Pekin Street is closed, the platform will be built 500 feet long, extending to the north beyond the depot. With the increased loading space, Nelson said for a certainty northbound trains would be able to pull up far enough so as not to block Broadway to traffic.

In the matter of the southbound trains, Nelson said he wasn’t the expert on what the practice would be. He said the trains would have the potential to not block Broadway, but he wasn’t certain that is the way it would work out.

Melody Anderson wanted more information about this. She said she wondered how IDOT would handle the gates that drop when the train is at the station. Even if the train clears Broadway Street would the gates still be down, or will they be triggered to go up again until the train begins moving.

Nelson again said that was not his area of expertise, but he imagined the answer would lie in the signal system itself. He said he believed IDOT would have the ability to set those gates to come back up, but he had not been given exact information regarding this.

Jonie Tibbs asked about the security fencing that is to be put up. She wondered if the fencing would run the entire length of town, and would it do anything to buffer the noise of the trains?

Nelson said he didn’t have the specifics on the fencing. He did know there would be permanent fencing put on the west side of the tracks at the depot. He said other fencing on the east side of the tracks would be incorporated into the depot restoration.

Anderson said she was interested in hearing from the emergency services about the closing of Pekin Street, specifically the police department.

Chief of police, Ken Greenslate, said that it would have an effect on his department. He said the department would need to define alternative routes for crossing the tracks. He said that might include evaluating the current stop signs and asking for some changes.

However, Greenslate said the city still has a goal of someday creating a new safety complex for police and fire. If and when that happens he said the complex won’t be located on Pekin Street, and it would not be an issue for his department at all.

Soon after Greenslate spoke, Snyder began calling on the various people in the gallery who had requested an opportunity to speak.

Caroline Kiest

Caroline Kiest works at the Lincoln Public Library. She told the council she was opposed to closing Pekin because it would create a traffic snarl for people getting to work in the downtown area. She also commented that Pekin is one route to Washington Monroe School. She said she felt closing Pekin would decrease public safety and cause problems for parents getting their kids to school.

Pam Moriearty

When Pam Moriearty spoke, she first asked to confirm that currently there are three crossings north of Broadway and three crossing south. Snyder affirmed she was correct. She said, then if Pekin was closed there would be only two crossings north of Broadway from east to west.

Moriearty also wanted to know, in a 24-hour period, how many minutes per day both Pekin and Broadway were blocked by trains.

Snyder said currently there are 9 stops a day in Lincoln. Five are northbound and four are southbound. He figured it might take one to two minutes for the on and off loading of passengers at each stop.

Moriearty pointed out that there is no guarantee the southbound trains will not block Broadway, so the traffic delay the city was trying to avoid on Broadway only amounted to a very few minutes per day.

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Snyder said that once high speed rail is fully implemented, there would be an increase in the number of stops in Lincoln. He surmised the time trains would be sitting at the station within a 24 hour period would be up to 30 minutes all totaled. This was his guess if Pekin Street was closed. He added, that if Pekin stays open, then the northbound trains would enter back into the mix and that time might double.

Sue Whiteman – P W Pools

Sue Whiteman is co-owner of P W Pools located at the corner of Chicago and Pekin Streets. She said last fall representatives from IDOT had come to her and her husband and wanted to purchase the parking lot property on the south side of their building. The Whiteman’s had refused to sell.

She became emotional saying that now it appeared IDOT and the city was going to take the property anyway. She said as a result her business would lose customer parking, employee parking, access to the back side of their building where the dumpster is, and ultimately would lose property value as well as business revenue.

Snyder said that no one was planning on taking the Whiteman’s property. He added that in fact, they would be getting property as a result of the surrender of right-of-way. He explained that if Pekin were closed, the land the road is on would be divided equally between the two adjacent property owners. The city would get half the road for the depot, but the Whiteman’s would get the other half. With that, they could maintain their south parking spaces and create an alley way to the back side of their building.

Whiteman commented though that the added land wasn’t going to be of any benefit. She said her customers and her company trucks would still not be able to park on the south side of her building, because they wouldn’t have room to back out.

Snyder asked if P W customers currently back out completely crossing Pekin Street in order to get out of those spaces. Whiteman said most of them do, especially the larger vehicles and trucks.

Don Bode – Bode Welding

Don Bode is a business owner with his welding shop being located on the corner of Pekin and Sangamon Streets. He told the council when he purchased his property in 1991 it was estimated that 6,000 vehicles a day passed by his corner. He said the traffic on Pekin was one of the main reasons he purchased the property, because of the high visibility.

Bode said he wondered who came up with the number of only 1,500 cars per day crossing on Pekin.

Snyder said the Interstate Commerce Commission maintains crossing counts annually. He explained the ICC maintains an annual report of all crossings in Illinois and the information regarding traffic counts came from their website ( ).

Bode wanted to know how they counted it, and if they did so during the school year when traffic was at its peak. Snyder said he did not have the answer to those questions.

Carol Becherer

Carol Becherer commented that she too was against closing Pekin Street. She said she was happy that the trains stop in Lincoln, but she has noted they do so quickly. She said to close Pekin in order to save 3 to 5 minutes of Broadway being blocked really didn’t make sense. She said she didn’t believe anyone would benefit from closing Pekin Street.

She also noted that in addition to the library and School, this would also affect church traffic and funerals.

She said she understood the money involved was attractive. She recalled that several years ago, the city had been asked to close some crossings. They had done so. She said the city received quite a bit a money for that, but now that money is gone, and the crossings are still closed.

She also commented that trains wouldn’t be stopping in Lincoln anyway. Snyder disagreed saying with high speed rail, Amtrak is planning to add more stops.

During the course of the evening, one speaker said the train wasn’t that beneficial to the town, that not many people got on and off in Lincoln, maybe only one or two per train at most. Snyder countered that saying Amtrak has documented 25,000 per year use the Lincoln train stop.

Before the hearing was closed, Pam Moriearty returned to the speakers table saying she had done the math. With 25,000 people per year, 9 trains a day, 365 days a year, it came out that on the average each time the train stops in Lincoln 6.84 people get on or off.

With that comment, Snyder closed the meeting and the council took recess until 7 p.m. when their regular voting session would begin.

This item was on the agenda for voting Monday evening. However it was placed there with the intention of continuing the voting session to next Tuesday. Alderman will have this week to consider the input from the guest speaker Bruce Nelson as well as the citizens who spoke in opposition to the plan. It is expected they will come to the meeting prepared to vote on this issue.

The council does have the right to table any item on the agenda if they feel they are not fully prepared to take a vote.


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