Railroad commissioner orders two east-side crossings closed

Wisconsin and Southern had asked to close three crossings
Railroad commissioner orders two east-side crossings closed

East-side residents will have a fewer ways to get across the Wisconsin and Southern tracks that divide the Isthmus east of the Capitol.

State officials told WISC-TV that Railroad Commissioner Jeff Plale will order the closure of railroad crossings across the Wisconsin and Southern railroad tracks at Brearly and Livingston streets on the city’s east side.

Wisconsin and Southern cited safety concerns when it petitioned the state in 2009 to close down three crossings, including a crossing at Blount Street. Officials told WISC-TV the state will allow the Blount Street crossing to remain open.

The Livingston Street, Brearly Street and Blount Street crossings connect commuters to heavily traveled East Washington and Williamson Streets. But opponents have argued the closings would not only cause congestion but also hurt businesses.

Plale announced that he plans to close two of the three crossings to not just drivers but also pedestrians and bikers. But he didn’t say when the crossings would close.

Around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, one of the half-dozen or so daily trains passed. It crossed several streets, including Brearly Street, which is home to local restaurant Burrito Drive.

“It’s going to be a big issue for the east side, especially for the Willy Street neighborhood,” said Kevin, who didn’t give his last name.

A cook at Burrito Drive, Kevin said he is concerned about convenience when the commission shuts down the road but not about losing business.

“We might be an exception because a majority of our business is delivery, but other restaurants in the area don’t necessarily have that advantage,” he explained.

Residents complained at public hearings earlier this year that closing the crossings would affect their ability to get around the east side.

Both Brearly and Livingston streets will close — blocked by barricades barring anyone or anything from crossing the tracks that the railroad said pose safety issues.

The commission argues there are several other and nearby routes for drivers to access Willy Street and East Washington Avenue.

Blount Street will stay open and, like the other crossings, has been collision-free for 34 years, according to the State Journal’s records.

“I’ve driven to work and I’ve biked to work using the bike paths that run through here, and I’ve never seen any near-misses or any kind of unsafe situations,” said east-side resident Bradley Tabor.

Fewer crossings also mean fewer whistles. The city is trying to create a “quiet zone” in that area, along with a Central Park, which has been 10 years in the making.

Also up in the air is when the commissioner plans to actually close the crossings.

“Would it be the end of the world? No, but would it make me a little cranky at the end of the day? Probably,” Tabor said.