STORM LAKE, Iowa | John Keenan worries that business will slow down at his coffee shop if Storm Lake city officials proceed with a plan to close eight railroad crossings around town.
The crossings lack electronic gates and lights to warn of passing trains and are a safety hazard for motorists and pedestrians, Assistant City Manager Justin Yarosevich said. The closures wouldn't pose an undue burden on traffic because there are plenty of other crossings in town, he said.
A public hearing is scheduled during Monday's 5 p.m. City Council meeting at City Hall to discuss vacating four streets and four sidewalks that cross Chicago, Central & Pacific Railroad tracks in the downtown area.
Keenan’s Grand Central Coffee Station is near one of those crossings, on Ontario Street.
“We’re on Fifth Street and Ontario,” Keenan said. “That’s a very congested intersection already, and the closure is going to force our drive-through traffic out onto Fifth Street rather than being able to go on Ontario.”
Keenan said he can’t recall any serious train accidents at any of the proposed closure sites and that the inconvenience they would bring would outweigh the potential safety gains.
“I think we should keep our town and parks accessible and not close them off and make it such an inconvenience for people,” he said. “I’m opposed to all the closings because I don’t think they’re justified.”
The four streets have stop signs where the tracks cross, but Yarosevich said city officials don't consider them adequate in terms of safety.
“We want to make any crossing that we have as safe as possible,” he said. “The safest you can get is with gates and lights. The streets that are being proposed are a long shot in terms of finding funding for gates and arms.”
The next best option is to close the streets and redirect the traffic, Yarosevich said.
“Storm Lake is unique. It has a number of crossings, the tracks run right through the middle of town, there are a number of crossings that are available,” he said.