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Batavia plans ahead for railroad crossing upgrade

City seeks Illinois Commerce Commission grant for work

The city of Batavia is planning ahead for the installation of railroad crossing gates at the intersection of East Wilson and Prairie streets, seen here looking north from South Prairie.
The city of Batavia is planning ahead for the installation of railroad crossing gates at the intersection of East Wilson and Prairie streets, seen here looking north from South Prairie.

BATAVIA – The $2.45 million South Prairie Street reconstruction project will get underway this summer, but city officials are already looking ahead to the second phase of the project.

That work will be a major upgrade for Prairie’s intersection with East Wilson Street, including traffic signals, turn lanes and railroad crossing gates at a cost of $2.55 million.

Mayor Jeff Schielke has already secured more than $1.7 million in federal transportation funds for improving the busy intersection, now a four-way stop.

That leaves the city of Batavia with about $765,750 as its share of the project, but Batavia Public Works Director Gary Holm is looking to further reduce the city’s cost.

Holm said the city will be applying for a grant from the state’s Grade Crossing Protection Fund, which is administered by the Illinois Commerce Commission.

“Assistance from the fund can only be used for safety improvements at public highway rail crossings located on the local road system,” Holm told city aldermen at a recent committee meeting.

“At this time, it is unknown how much money is available and what the maximum amount is that will be awarded if the city is successful in getting additional funding,” Holm said.

Aldermen granted Holm blanket approval to make grant applications to the state for money to help finance the project.

Meanwhile, engineering and design work for the project will get underway soon, with construction likely to take place during 2021.

The key components of the project will include installation of the traffic lights and turn lanes, along with the crossing gates for the BNSF Railway that complicates an already congested intersection.

The single-track rail line cuts across South Prairie Street just a few yards south of the Prairie-Wilson intersection, and again across Wilson a few yards to the east of the four-way stop.

The railway has been embedded in Batavia’s geography since the 1850s, when it was first built and operated as the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.

Entering Batavia from the south, the line eventually curves to the northeast, cutting across the two legs of the Prairie-Wilson intersection on a diagonal before continuing northeast toward the Batavia industrial park and West Chicago.

There are no crossing gates, at the intersection. BNSF locomotives, usually pulling or pushing no more than four or five freight cars, sound their horns for many city blocks before traveling through the unprotected crossing, marked only with signals.

Replacing the traffic intersection’s four-way stop signs with signals will greatly improve traffic flow in Batavia, at a key intersection on the edge of the downtown.

The $1.7 million in grant money obtained by Schielke was approved by the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, where Schielke serves as the chairman of CMAP’s Council of Mayors.

Whatever further funding Holm is able to obtain from the ICC, the city is still expected to pay a share.

The money will come from the city’s Street Capital Improvement Fund, which is financed by the city’s 5-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax, as well as Illinois Motor Fuel Tax revenues.

Meanwhile the city is gearing up for this year’s South Prairie Street reconstruction, which will extend from a point just south of the BNSF Railway crossing all the way south to the thoroughfare’s end and its connection with Pine Street, nearly six city blocks in length.

The $2.45 million project will include not just the roadway, but replacement of water and sewer mains along with the sidewalks on both sides of the street, which runs through an established residential neighborhood.

From its intersection with East Wilson Street, South Prairie provides a key link from the downtown to the south and southeast. The connection with Pine gives motorists a direct path to southeast side neighborhoods, Kirk Road and Fermilab, as well as with Hart Road and points south.

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