July 23, 2008

North Siders Criticize Railroad Medians

By Samantha Marcus, La Crosse Tribune, Wis.

Jul. 23--Residents of La Crosse's lower North Side are clamoring over a city plan that would keep passing trains from sounding off -- but also would cut access or parking for 18 homes.

Under federal law, locomotives must sound their horns at public crossings unless in a designated quiet zone. The entire city is in a quiet zone, which has kept the trains silent for more than two decades.

But to maintain that quiet zone designation, the city will have to upgrade crossings at Avon and Hagar streets and Liberty and St. Cloud streets.

Officials intend to install eight medians, at a cost of $20,000 to $30,000, to prevent traffic from snaking around the gates when they're down. Marks on the pavement already indicate where the barriers will go.

But homeowners, accustomed to dozens of trains passing through the neighborhood each day, are concerned about the unintended side effects of the bothersome barriers. They want city officials to look at an alternative, even though it would cost about $2 million.

About 100 feet of parking on each side of the street would be sacrificed. And George Italiano, council member for the lower North Side district, contends the updated crossings will hinder access to 18 houses.

"It's affecting some people so drastically they don't know if they can continue to live there," said Italiano, who lives at Avon and Hagar streets. "If we go forward with this, it's going to destroy some living conditions."

Nicole Borntreger, who lives at the northeast corner of Avon and Hagar and has no alley access, likely would suffer the greatest blow.

"No one that I'm aware of is happy about it. Putting up that median would be one of the worst options there is," she said. "And if that's put in the way they want it, it will definitely lower the value of our home. Getting in and out of our driveway is going to be almost impossible."

The effects will ripple down the block, said Karen Reiber, who lives slightly further up Avon, where residents already jockey for street parking with Loggers fans at nearby Copeland Park.

The plan for medians already has considerable momentum, since the city submitted a plan to the Federal Railroad Administration in June and the council put money behind it this month.

But Italiano hopes it's not too late to turn it around and approve alternative safety measures. A petition is circulating throughout the neighborhood, he said, and a public meeting is set for Monday.

Unfortunately, the best solution also is the most expensive solution, Italiano said.

For about $2 million, the city can install gates across the entire roadway, said city Traffic Engineer Matt Gallager.

Samantha Marcus can be reached at (608) 791-8220 or [email protected]


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