Champaign council looks into railroad renovation

By Danielle Gaines

The Champaign city council voted 9-0 to develop a plan that would improve the condition and safety of city railroad viaducts.

“We are not concerned at all about the structural integrity or the possibility of collapse at this point,” said Dennis Schmidt, director of public works.

What the city is concerned with, however, are drainage, safety, structural deficiencies and the future maintenance of the roads and walkways beneath the raised tracks.

The city will now ask for the ability to improve amenities such as lighting and painted surfaces within the viaduct underpasses without prior consent from Canadian National Railway Company. Incomplete knowledge of ownership and responsibility for maintenance have led to the unsightly or unsafe conditions at many of the viaducts.

“We want to make sure these properties are used to their highest and best use,” said Law Clerk Aubrey Meyers regarding ownership.

Council members’ concerns concentrated on safety issues. Gina Jackson, District 1, said concerns with visibility could be solved by making lighting requirements throughout the city uniform.

Michael La Due, District 2, agreed.

“Speaking as a cyclist … the visibility under (the Washington Street) viaduct is so low that a motorist couldn’t see a cyclist for many hours of the day – even when sunny,” he said.

La Due also cited problems at the St. Mary’s Road underpass. Traffic for Research Park has increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic in a tight space there, he said.

David Clark, an engineer from the city, said staff will look into ways to warn motorists of other traffic in the area.

Vic McIntosh, District 3, wants to encourage a working relationship with the railroad to share the burden of the improvements.

“I think it is a little ironic that one of the things that created this city is causing the problems it is now,” he said.

The Green Street viaduct was built in 1899 and was last renovated in 1986.