The Office of the Commissioner of Railroads is set to close Livingston Street at the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad crossing on Madison's near east side. However, it would leave the crossings at South Brearly and South Blount Streets open. It also could rule to open a crossing at Few Street, which dead ends at the city's proposed Central Park, for bicycles and pedestrians.
The rulings are not yet final. Wisconsin & Southern had asked the commissioner for permission to close all three streets, which the city opposes.
Douglas Wood served as the office's hearing examiner in the case. Jeff Plale, commissioner of the railroads, will decide whether to follow his recommendations.
Wood wrote in his ruling (PDF) that the Livingston crossing isn't needed, and "will improve public safety by eliminating a conflict point between trains and roadway vehicles. The crossing is not necessary for public convenience. Given the availability of alternate routes, South Livingston Street is a redundant crossing. Eliminating a redundant crossing serves the public interest."
The office found that of the three streets, Livingston was the obvious one to close because it "has the most restricted access to East Washington Avenue with only right-in, right-out movements being allowed. It is controlled by two-way stop signs not only at East Wash and Willy Street, but also at East Main Street."
Ald. Marsha Rummel, who represents the area, says that surprises her, especially since there is a new housing and retail development being built on Livingston. The report notes that while there have been two train-vehicle accidents on both Brearly and Blount since 1973, there have been none on Livingston during that time.
Assistant City Attorney Steve Brist says the city is likely to appeal the ruling. "Our argument is there is no history of accidents at this location," he says. "It makes more sense to put in gates and lights than close the crossing."
Earlier this year, the commissioner's office made a draft recommendation to open a crossing at Few Street for bikes and pedestrians, in order to connect them to the city's proposed Central Park. Plale said he wanted to wait for Wood's report on the other three streets before acting. He could not be reached for comment.
"If you're the glass half empty or half full kind of person, this glass is three quarters full," Rummel says. "I would have preferred not to close any of them. We'll see if we can appeal it."
Wisconsin & Southern Railroad might also appeal the decision, however, and press to close more of the streets. If Livingston is closed as Wood recommends, the railroad would have to pay 90% of the cost and the city the rest.