Wisconsin & Southern Railroad Co. is petitioning the state's commissioner of railroads to close three streets on Madison's east side: Blount, Livingston and Brearly.
"We feel they're unsafe," says Ken Lucht, community development manager for W&S. "There are way too many railroad crossings in this stretch. We have about a dozen in a half-mile stretch."
Motorists, cyclists and pedestrians routinely ignore warning lights at the crossings, he claims.
Lucht says closing these streets would also improve the quality of life on the east side. "With three less crossings, we'll be blowing the horn 12 less times."
Lucht also makes a financial argument: The east isthmus is slated to become a "quiet zone," which means the city will have to upgrade each track crossing with railroad gates and lights to prevent the trains from blowing those horns. The cost of upgrading each crossing is roughly $250,000.
City officials aren't buying the arguments. "We're opposed to the closings," says Rob Phillips, city engineer.
Phillips admits that daily traffic on the streets is low: 2,000 for Blount, 1,350 for Livingston and 1,150 for Brearly.
"Even so, they do provide connectivity and circulation that we think is important," he says. "We'd like to see redevelopment in this area as well, and these streets will be more important."
The commissioner of railroads will hold public hearings on the closing on Sept. 27 and 28 at 610 N. Whitney Way.
Phillips doesn't know of any major accidents at the intersections and adds that even if the streets are closed, "The traffic would just go onto another street, so the exposure stays the same."
East-side Ald. Marsha Rummel compares closing the streets to building "a wall" in the neighborhood: "There's a cost to undermining our grid. I don't know how to calculate that cost."
Rather than close any streets, Rummel would like to open up Few Street to allow access into Central Park, which is under development.