November 23, 2014

Elm Street railroad crossing in Standish staying open

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STANDISH — The Standish City Council unanimously voted to leave Elm Street open at the railroad tracks April 15, following an offer from the state to close the crossing.

The Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) has offered the city a minimum of $100,000 to close the road due to a rail spur being installed in June for the Auburn Bean & Grain facility south of city limits. The lengthy trains that would be going to the facility would extend into town on the spur, likely reaching the Elm Street crossing.

The two proposals MDOT has offered would either close the road outright or involve a breakaway barrier that would close it to general traffic, but allowing emergency services to continue to use it.

“The state wants to close crossings where it can,” City Manager Curt Hillman said. “They asked us to do this, but we don’t need to.”

While the council leaned toward rejecting the proposal during its March 25 meeting, the amount of money offered spurred council members to hold a public hearing to collect residents’ input before rejecting it.

The state’s proposal found little support among officials or residents, however. Standish Area Fire Chief Mitch Oliver said the Elm Street crossing, located where the road turns into Front Street and Old M-10, is used by emergency services when they need to avoid traffic at the light to reach that part of the city.

“If traffic is backed up at the light, we will respond that way (down Elm) to go around it,” Oliver said. “We don’t use it regularly, but fairly often.”

Oliver did not feel that a breakaway barrier for emergency services or gating the road and only opening it for emergencies would be worthwhile from the fire department’s perspective.

Standish resident Ardith Fales pointed out that the road is important for the safety factor, not just for the fire department, but the hospital and sheriff’s department, which are located on either side of the railroad track.

For local traffic using the crossing as a way to leave the industrial park to get home or go to lunch, or to get around a parade, a gate or barrier would be problematic as well.

“A gate would solve that for emergency services, but not for everyone else,” Councilman Jerry Nelson said.

Hillman said the railroad does not seem to have an issue with the crossing, since it can simply split the trains being served by the ABG facility to leave the roads open. Additionally, he said that ABG has not supported closing Elm Street, and knew about the crossing when the company selected the site.

Hillman added the state does want to see all foliage cut back about 600 feet to the north and south of the crossings, but will not require any additional signage than what is there now.

After the council voted to leave Elm Street alone at this time, Councilman Nelson solicited any other ideas from residents on how to handle the crossing.

“We are seriously looking for other ideas, if it would work and get us that $100,000,” he said.

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