WHEATON – The Union Pacific crossing at Chase Street near downtown Wheaton is set to close after work is completed on a pedestrian underpass at the site.
Wheaton City Council approved the measure at its meeting Nov. 4.
The closure has been in the works for years, possibly decades, said Wheaton's Director of Engineering Paul Redman. It is part of a plan by Union Pacific Railroad to improve routes along its western lines.
The Wheaton crossing will close so that a track switch can be installed at the location. By allowing freight trains to switch tracks more freely, they can move at higher speeds.
During the course of a day, Redman said, the overall down time at crossing gates should go down.
Redman said that the Union Pacific identified the crossing long ago as a potential track switch.
"It fits in their layout along their west line," he said. "And it's at a location where it's not a heavily used crossing and – in many people's opinion – could be eliminated without a lot of grief or problems."
To ensure the safety and convenience of pedestrians using the Prairie Path or traveling to and from the Wheaton College campus, Union Pacific agreed to construct and maintain an underpass at the location free of city funding.
"This is something that is primarily, as far as Union Pacific and the college and the city are concerned, a safety issue," said Wheaton Mayor Mike Gresk.
Gresk said that the crossing has a poor line of sight for both traffic and pedestrians. While the closing may mean alternate routes for some, he believes it will ultimately be beneficial.
"We can work on traffic, but the priority here is safety," he said.
In a related measure, the city also gave the right of way of Chase Street north of the tracks to Wheaton College for use. Redman said that, because of the lack of crossing, the city has less need for the area than the college might.
Gresk said that the college's cooperation, participation and willingness to assist on issues with water retention and detention problems in the area is another example of how it is "a great neighbor."