Riverside tunnel ruling could be weeks away

Nearly 60 comments posted opposing closure

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The pedestrian underpass beneath the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railroad tracks in downtown Riverside could remain open for some time and a final ruling from the Illinois Commerce Commission could be weeks if not months away, a spokesperson from the ICC said recently.

Beth Bosch, spokeswoman for the ICC, said that the administrative law judge assigned to the case has not indicated a time frame for making a recommendation on whether to close the tunnel or keep it open. Formulating that recommendation could take "months," Bosch said.

The judge's ruling is not final, however. The full Illinois Commerce Commission board will make that final determination.

That is in contrast to what Judge Latrice Kirkland-Montague told those attending the April 29 hearing on the BNSF's petition to close the tunnel. At the hearing, Riverside Village Manager Kathleen Rush said, Kirkland-Montague gave the impression that a decision would be coming quickly.

"She said the comment section [on the ICC website] would be open until the end of the week and then she'd make a decision in the next week," Rush said.

The judge made no such ruling by May 9, and there's no indication on the ICC website when the issue would be back on the ICC's schedule.

"I don't know how quickly this case will go to the commission," Bosch said.

In the meantime, Bosch indicated that the ICC will continue to accept public comment, both online and via paper copies. In fact, since the April 29 hearing over a dozen comments have been submitted to the ICC arguing against the closure of the tunnel.

As of Monday afternoon, some 59 comments had been submitted, all against closing the underpass.

Recently, two potentially important documents were filed. The first was the official resolution from the Riverside School District 96 board opposing the closure of the tunnel. Supt. Jonathan Lamberson had initially attached the resolution as a general comment on the ICC website. It now appears as an official case document.

Second, Riverside resident Martine J. Gary on May 9 submitted a six-page, detailed argument against the tunnel's closure, relating two instances she said prove that closing the tunnel would be a blow to public safety.

Gary related on incident, undated, when the tunnel was regularly locked during daytime hours. She stated that one day while waiting for a stopped freight train to clear the Longcommon Road crossing, she saw school children crossing the railroad underneath the cars of the stopped train.

In another incident, Gary stated that a Riverside-Brookfield High School student was killed by a train as she tried to take a short cut to school by using the railroad bridge over the Des Plaines River.

In addition to further study on the just how much repairing the tunnel would cost, Gary suggested building a footpath across the existing railroad bridge piers that extend north from tracks. That path could run west through the forest preserves to First Avenue.

Gary's letter has also been filed as an official case document.

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