CHIPPEWA FALLS — Progressive Rail has filed a request with the state Office of the Commissioner of Railroads asking that a road north of Chippewa Falls be closed, allowing for the railroad to have room to line up its train cars.
The rail company has asked that the 1-mile stretch of 95th Avenue — from Highway 124 to Highway 178 — be permanently closed.
However, Eagle Point town Chairman Dennis Ferstenou thinks it’s a bad idea. The town has until Monday to file its objections with the commission, and Ferstenou said the town, along with Chippewa County and Chippewa Falls officials, thinks the closure is a bad idea.
“Closing the road only benefits Progressive Rail,” Ferstenou said. “Ninety-fifth Avenue is a heavily used road. Closing it would mean 105th Avenue and Highway S would see increased traffic. To force more traffic on those roads is not in the best interest of public safety.”
Progressive Rail considered building an overpass on that road in 2015 to construct a rail switching yard with 10 tracks but later dropped its plans as the sand mining industry waned.
“They want to put together 140-unit trains that are a mile-and-a-half long,” Ferstenou said. “They feel they can reduce the number of closures on Highway S.”
The company filed the request with the state office a few months ago.
“The town was caught off-guard by that,” Ferstenou said. “Railroads typically reach out to municipalities.”
The state ordered the railroad to meet with the town and see if they could work out an agreement.
“They presented us with a voluntary road closure agreement, where they would pay us $7,500,” Ferstenou said.
However, between constructing cul-de-sacs, acquiring right of way and signage, Ferstenou estimates the cost to close the road would be closer to $200,000. Even if the railroad offered to pay the full cost of the closure, Ferstenou said, he would still be against it, saying it creates too much of a public safety risk.
“We really feel there needed to be a traffic impact analysis,” he said. “The public safety is the main thing. Our Fire Department uses 95th Avenue — it is preferable.”
Traffic on Highway S has steadily increased in recent years because of trucks heading to the EOG Resources sand processing plant. Ferstenou pointed out the Mills Fleet Farm distribution center will open later this month, bringing not only 300 employees to the building but even more semitrailer trucks traveling on Highway S.
“If anything, the vehicle traffic will be increasing,” Ferstenou said.
Chippewa Falls Mayor Greg Hoffman said the city has sent in a statement to the commission voicing an objection to the proposed closure.
“There are ramifications to the city,” Hoffman said. “Our interest is a shift in traffic flow — this could cause issues with current traffic flows.”
If 95th Avenue were closed, it would also mean more traffic on 105th Avenue to the north, but Ferstenou said that is problematic because it has more hills and access to campgrounds.
Closing the road also would mean more large farm equipment would be sent south, through the roundabouts on Highway S, and that also is a public safety concern, he said.
Progressive Rail must file its rebuttal to the state by Dec. 19, Ferstenou said. The state may decide to hold a public hearing on the matter. That hearing would likely be in spring, he said.
“If a hearing happens, the public will be allowed to provide testimony,” he said.
Lakeville, Minn.-based Progressive Rail began operations in 1996 in the Twin Cities. The company took over operating the line from Chippewa Falls into Barron County in 2004, after Canadian National Railroad abandoned its line between Ladysmith and Rice Lake — leaving Barron County with only one rail access point. The company has invested in upgrading the tracks to allow for higher speeds throughout the rail corridor. Company officials couldn’t be reached for comment.
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Eagle Point Town Board
Meets at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 18, at Town Hall, 14802 Highway 124.