JOHN L. DUNKIRK, JR.
The Honorable James Inhofe of Oklahoma
Committee on Environment and Public Works
United States Senate
Dear Senator Inhofe:
The City of Litchfield has presented a request through the office of Senator Peter Fitzgerald of Illinois for financial assistance for a roadway grade separation project. It is understood that the Committee is accepting testimony about projects subsequent to the April 7, 2003 Transportation Hearing.
Enclosed is a project summary titled “Construction of a Grade Separation Structure” for review by the Committee.
Please accept our sincere thank you for any consideration given to this project. City officials fully support this project and view the grade separation project as a critical need to sustain economic vitality.
John L. Dunkirk, Jr.
The community of Litchfield Illinois has a long history of commercial and industrial stability, even at a time when other small rural towns were experiencing a decline. The genesis of Litchfield’s rich history can be attributed to being a crossroads for various railroads. At one time, the town could claim service from six different railroads. As highway systems developed as a favorite mode of transportation, Litchfield’s location on Route 66 continued to add to the town’s success. With the advent of the Interstate highway system, again Litchfield remained a survivor having a location along 1-55. Today it is a commercial and employment hub of a multi-county area and is the largest town between Springfield, Illinois and the St. Louis metropolitan area.
Litchfield has been fortunate in having a progressive, forward-thinking leadership that has viewed jobs as the greatest wealth in the community. Jobs contribute to an increased tax base within the community, which in turn provides the revenue for City supported services, contributes to continued development, and sets the standard for the quality of life of the residents.
The project is to construct a new grade separation structure (underpass or overpass) on Ferdon Street in Litchfield. The new structure will result in uninterrupted automobile traffic flow at the two railroad crossings for the Norfolk Southern Railroad and Burlington Northern, Santa Fe Railroad.
Presently every railroad crossing in Litchfield is an at grade crossing and automobile traffic flow is interrupted by rail traffic. The City has long had a great need for a grade separation structure. This; is the preferred location for the proposed project as it would have the least disruptive impact to existing businesses and property owners upon completion of the project. Presently, Ferdon Street is the only east west major street on the north side of the town that is a through street to the west side highway system and commercial district. A bade separation structure will provide an uninterrupted traffic connection between the east and west sides of the City of Litchfield.
Ferdon Street is an urban collector street, 36 feet in width, and has sidewalk, curb and gutter. The distance between the two parallel railroad lines is approximately 300 feet along Ferdon Street. To separate the grade of the street from the grade of the existing railroads will require that the roadway pass over or under the railroads. An overpass would be a single long bridge over the two rail lines. Alternatively, Ferdon Street can be lowered and two railroad bridges constructed over Ferdon Street to create an underpass. Under both alternatives retaining walls will be required to minimize the impacts to adjacent properties.
The improvement would result in road modifications for a length of 2000 feet or less. The preliminary project cost is approximately $6,000,000 with no significant cost difference between the two alternatives. The improvement would include two bridges, retaining walls, drainage structures, utility adjustments and approach road modifications.
Not unlike other small towns, Litchfield struggles to maintain the status quo while still planning for future growth. Much of the commercial and industrial growth has occurred on the west side of the City. Healthcare services, long-term care facilities and the largest employer in the City and County are located on the east side of town. Dissecting the town between east and west are the City’s two remaining national rail carriers, Norfolk Southern Railway, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad The tracks run parallel in a north-south direction the entire distance across town, with less than 300 feet separating the rail right-of-ways. Dividing the town between north and south is Illinois State Route 16 which is a major east west highway that transports many workers, travelers, shoppers and residents through the community. The Illinois Department of Transportation places approximately 17,000 vehicles per day on Route 16 at the intersection with the railroad lines. More than 60% of -the City’s population resides north of Route 16, with Ferdon Street being the only through street to the west side serving the north side of town. Presently there is no grad: separation structure across the two railroads in or near the City of Litchfield_ On the north side of the City, all railroad crossings have been closed except for the crossings at Ferdon Street.
While the number of rail carriers has diminished, the two remaining carriers are strong and have a substantial number of trains running through town on a daily basis, numbering in the dozens. In their efforts to provide a more cost effective service to their custoaners, they have increased the length of trains, and by today’s standards most freight trains have in excess of 100 cars and are greater than one mile in length. Some trains reach 150 cars in length.
While the City views the existence of these two rail lines as an asset and economic resource to the community, it presents an ongoing problem of disruption of traffic flow which causes emergency services concerns and a critical delay factor in the movement of people in either direction when crossings are frequently blocked due to trains. Contributing to the problem is the fact that the two lines cross at a point just south of the City limits. One train must yield to the other at the diamond. The waiting train has an increased delay time in clearing the crossings once they start from a stopped position and they travel at a slower spud. Additionally, as soon as one train passes, the waiting train begins to move, creating back-to-back crossing closings. At times the closings exceed the length of time allowed by the ICC to have traffic blocked. This is affected by slow orders, track maintenance, mechanical failures, switching and other unforeseen causes.
The City’s west side property along Route 66 was once a thriving business district There are still remnants of some of those businesses while other property has deteriorated after Route 66 was abandoned in favor of 1-55. New growth is now underway in Litchf eld with a major commercial development along 1-55 in the north side of town, including the construction of a primary roadway through the development (an extension of Ferdon Street), linking Route 66 with the 1-55 interchange and the newly constructed entrance to the Litchfield Industrial PIE. There has been additional new commercial development along Route 66 on the north side of town which appears to be closing the gap which occurred after Route 66 was abandoned as a national highway. Route 66 does still provide entrance into the community from the north and south for local traffic from commuter residents, rural dwellers, residents of surrounding communities, and Route 66 tourists.
Although there appears to be potential for growth, a major deterrent to revitalization of this area is poor access from within the community due to limited arterial streets, with Ferdon Street being the only direct east-west route. There are a number of underutilized vacant properties in the area that would be suitable for a variety of business operations both commercial and light industrial. Better access could be the catalyst to future growth in the area. A grade separation structure would allow for some of the traffic from Route 16 (which has 17,000 vehicles per day) to be diverted to Ferdon Sheet. This increased traffic flow could generate interest in the underutilized sites for businesses that depend on high visibility as well as those that need easy access.
The City of Litchfield had contributed significant investment over the years, with assistance from state and federal programs, to providing jobs for residents of Litchfield, Montgomery County and adjacent counties. The delay factor involved with the length of time spent by people sitting in their vehicles waiting for trains to pass has a significant lost time value. This erodes the return on the investment. Employees who are late for work decrease productivity and impact the profitability of the employer, transporters of goods and services lose revenue while not moving, shoppers with limited time to make purchases, are forced to shop in less time which could result in less purchased goods and services, travelers that might plan to stop and eat and shop might in turn pass though a fast food restaurant and eat on the road which results in less sales tax revenue to the. City. The stress factor is detrimental to one’s health as one tries to make up the lost time.. The value of the delay factor i s significant and unending. An underpass could provide a direct route to the commercial district and industrial park and connect with the 1-55 interchange thereby decreasing or eliminating the delay factor.
Part of the City’s planning effort has been directed toward improving and increasing the housing stock in the community in an attempt to increase the tax base. As many as 70% of the jobs available in Litchfield arc held by persons living outside the City’s zip code. This is partly due to lack of new housing developments within the community until just recently. While much of the commercial growth has been on the west side, the northeast part of town has been identified as the most desirable location for new subdivisions. Two new subdivisions have been developed in the past two years offering more than 90 new home sites, as well as a U unit condominium development, and a proposed 40 unit low income single family rental home project. The City has, recently installed a water main extension/loop with adequate water to supply additional housing development in the area. There are interested investors that are presently looking at sites for residential subdivisions. There have been a number of new housing starts outside the corporate limits in a northeasterly direction toward our well-known Lake Lou Yaeger. Many of these homeowners are commuters that require access to I-55. Litchfield’s attractive; location within an hour drive to either Springfield or St. Louis has attracted many commuter families. A railroad underpass could provide easier access and foster the development of additional residential areas. This will increase the tax base and the population base, which will enhance the opportunity for additional economic development as the need for services rises.
As the population base increases, so does the enrollment in the school system. The Litchfield Community School District is presently not at full capacity. Additional students can be accommodated without increasing the facility size. With the financial struggles and budget deficits facing school districts each and every student added will have a positive financial impact on the system. Litchfield takes pride in having the reputation of a school system that is “Quality to the Core”. In order to maintain this reputation, the district needs to maximize their capacity.
The quality of education provided by a school system is a major factor in the site selection process of business and industry that are looking to relocate. Litchfield strives to meet all of the expectations of the site consultants in an effort to attract new business and create additional jobs! Housing and education needs are critical issues that must be met. Litchfield must have, adequate transportation flow in order to continue to move forward in meeting those needs.
The availability of emergency and medical services has always been a major concern knowing that parts of the community are cut off during the closing of crossing by trains. Many of the accidents are on the west side of the tracks while the medical and emergency care facilities are on the cast side of the tracks. This poses an additional problem when many surrounding commui7ities rely on access to our hospital for medical emergencies.
The addition of a grade separation structure in Litchfield would provide increased safety to the railways and to the traveling public by eliminating two at-grade crossings where accidents can occur. This would also provide a safer crossing for school buses in the community.
Although Litchfield is the economic hub of the region, much of the traffic on Rout,. 16 is from people not just coming to Litchfield to live, work, shop and play. They pass though Litchfield en route to other towns via Routel6. Hillsboro, the Montgomery County seat is located 9 miles east of Litchfield on Route 16 and from I-55, Litchfield is the gateway to many eastern Illinois communities. The proposed underpass project can provide a bridge to link not only east, west, north and south Litchfield, but it can link south central Illinois. Our future depends on this bridge.