SENECA – Business owner Michael Ellis isn’t surprised when his employees show up 30 to 40 minutes late for work.
A CSX railroad cuts through the busiest intersection in Seneca and can delay traffic up to 40 minutes when CSX switches tracks or changes cars, which can be a weekly occurrence.
“It’s something that has been driving the community crazy for years,” said Ellis, who also is the president of the Seneca Business Association. “I can’t wrap my head around it because there is no rhyme or reason. Sometimes it will take 10 minutes, and sometimes, you’ll sit there for 45 minutes.”
The traffic jams halt movement along Routes 6 and 170, two heavily trafficked roads, Seneca Village Commissioner John Lamb said.
In a survey, the Illinois Department of Transportation estimated an average of 5,900 commuters travel through Seneca daily, many of whom are from Morris or Ottawa and are going to work at nearby power plants or businesses, Lamb said.
“The city has written [CSX] letters. The residents have written them letters, but we never hear back from them,” Ellis said.
The continued frustration of local businesses and residents regarding the long waits has prompted village officials to ask the state for help.
Seneca is applying for a grant through the Illinois Commerce Commission’s Railroad Crossing Safety Improvement Program with hopes of placing railroad switches in an area that would keep trains from stopping in the middle of town.
As part of the application process, the village is asking for letters of support from businesses or employees that have experienced issues because of the traffic congestion.
“We just want to make sure that all of the people who’ve had problems make their comments heard,” Lamb said.
Karen Osmond of the Seneca Fire and Ambulance Department said as an emergency services worker, she and others worry about the potential safety issues the railroad could cause. She said once a train is stopped, there is really no alternate routes to get around the blockage.
“Now, we are unable to get to you because there is a train in the way,” Osmond said. “Imagine the delay in care and protection.”
Aside from causing employees to be late, the railroad can isolate Seneca’s business district from passing traffic, deterring customers to visit downtown stores, Ellis said.
“People trying to get to our store, once they’re waiting and sitting there so long, a lot of them will turn around and try Morris or Ottawa instead,” he said.
Lamb said the letters of support from area business owners – including those in Morris who may commute from Seneca – are highly encouraged in the grant application. Those wishing to submit have until July 1.
“We’re just doing probably what a lot of other villages are doing,” Lamb said. “We’re telling what our problems are and hoping they’ll give us some assistance.”
Contact to CSX Railroad was not returned immediately.
To submit a letter of support
• Mail to: 340 N. Cash Street P.O. Box 27 Seneca, IL 61360
• Fax to: 815-357-8771
• Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org