Road closure explained

Editor, Daily Union: As a Town of Palmyra supervisor, I wish to respond to a letter from Mr. Ralph Tutton that appeared in this column on Monday, May 11, 2020.

Lowland Road is a short road that runs east and west about a mile-and-a-half from County Highway H to the Wisconsin Southern Railroad crossing, where it makes a hard-right turn over the railroad tracks and continues north to Marsh Road. There are four properties, including Mr. Tutton’s east of the railroad tracks and two north of the tracks at the intersection with Marsh Road.

The Town of Palmyra was notified in October by Wisconsin Southern Railroad that because its trains will be operating at increased speeds (40 mph instead of the current 25 mph) and train traffic is expected to double, it had conducted a survey of railroad crossings in the Town of Palmyra and, as a result, was planning safety studies concerning the railroad crossing on Lowland Drive. The result of their study was that Lowland Road was a lightly traveled road and that because Lowland Road crosses the railroad at a 90-degree curve, safety decrees that the crossing be closed.

The town was told at this time that the town board had two choices. We could close the road and the town would receive $8,500 from the railroad and $8,500 in matching funds from the state Department of Transportation. The town board could refuse and the railroad would file in court, use the $8,500 for their court expenses and, and since case law is on their side, they would prevail. The town would receive nothing and would have legal expenses.

State statutes require than whenever a town road is closed in whole or in part, a public hearing must be held. The Town of Palmyra scheduled a hearing in conjunction with a representative of the railroad company. The Town of Palmyra, via its attorneys, sent certified letters to residents on Lowland Road notifying them of the proposed closure and the hearing. The hearing was held at the Palmyra Town Hall on Feb. 29th, as Mr. Tutton has said. Three of the six property owners on Lowland Road and one person from Betenze Lane (which is a dead-end road turning south from Lowland Road) spoke at the hearing, as did several other town residents. Only three persons spoke in opposition.

As Mr. Tutton also has said, the railroad representative did not appear. A call to his cell phone revealed that he was traveling and thus was unable to attend. He had not bothered to notify the town of this situation in advance. Because he did not appear to answer questions from citizens, the town board voted to table a vote on the closure and attempt to hold another meeting with the railroad representative present to answer citizen questions. Before adjourning, The town board determined April 11 as the date for the next meeting and the railroad representative insisted he would attend.

The April 11 meeting was canceled due to COVID-19 and then reinstated to comply with a mandatory 90-day statutory window. The time was changed to 9 a.m. instead of 10 a.m. to accommodate the railroad representative. I am sure this was confusing for many, including Mr. Tutton, and I sympathize with him. However, he should have received a letter dated April 3rd notifying him of the new scheduling. The meeting was also posted on the town posting sites. At this meeting, the town board voted to close Lowland Road at the railroad tracks.

While I understand Mr. Tutton’s frustrations, first with the road closure and then with the confusion surrounding the meeting, the result of the vote would have been the same. It makes no sense for the town to become involved in a costly legal battle which it would surely lose, rather than cooperating and gaining $17,000 for the Town of Palmyra. I can assure Mr. Tutton that it is not, as he says in his letter, the three town board members who will receive these funds. It is the town coffers, and half of that money is mandated to be spent on road safety issues. I can assure him that the other half will find a home in much-needed road repairs.

I would like to alert all readers who travel roads which cross railroad tracks in our area to be mindful of the fact that more frequent trains will be traveling at increased speeds. This will require more vigilance from all of us. — Sincerely, Weenonah Brattset, supervisor, Town of Palmyra.

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