Schroyer tells OC Council railroad crossing meeting ‘was a disaster’

Oil City Council members heard a rundown Thursday of major points from this week’s meeting of city personnel with members of the Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad Corp., PennDOT, the state Public Utility Commission and other interested parties.

“To put it bluntly, this meeting was a disaster,” said City Manager Mark Schroyer. “All the planning we’ve done with the railroad, and everything I’ve reported over the last several weeks all went out the window in five minutes.”

Schroyer said that whereas it had been previously planned to replace the Elm and Center Street railroad crossings later this year, “they are now talking about doing every railroad crossing in the city…from Duncomb all the way down to Union Street…Apparently there’s some money floating around that they’re going to make some upgrades to all those signals in some fashion.”

He added that the previously-planned time frame of July now looks like it’s “completely out the window.”

Some attendees learned facts for the first time at Tuesday’s meeting, including the consultant brought on by the railroad who will design the railroad crossing upgrades, and who Schroyer said didn’t know until the meeting that Veterans Bridge will be closing later this year.

“It’s obvious that the proverbial left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing,” Schroyer told council. “Overall, that meeting was very disappointing, and it was almost as if there was very little say the city has in this as to what is going to happen.”

He also brought up a discussion at Tuesday’s meeting of closing the left-hand turn out of the McDonald’s drive-through leading to Elm Street, the only alternative to which is the right-hand turn onto Sycamore Street.

“They’re taking about totally blocking off that left-hand maneuver,” he said. “It’s been that way for 30 years, and now it’s deemed dangerous.”

Schroyer, city Police Chief Dave Ragon, and city Fire Chief Derek Long had all pushed back at Tuesday’s meeting against the closure of the turn, citing lack of incidents and also its utilization by emergency services.

And Schroyer told council that the railroad was also considering removing the train tracks behind McDonald’s and the old Days Inn, which meant the Center Street railroad crossing might not be replaced until 2025 since planners didn’t want to put money into a railroad crossing if the track wasn’t going to be there.

“At this point, I can’t tell you when this is going to happen,” Schroyer said. “I have no idea when this thing’s going to come together now.”

He added that the public hearing regarding street closings and detours due to the Veterans Bridge closure, which had been scheduled for 6 p.m. after the council meeting on May 23, is now canceled due to all the uncertainty.

“All I know is it looks like the bridge project is still moving ahead for the June through September time frame,” Schroyer said.

He added that he still hasn’t heard anything more from the bridge contractors on whether they are planning to start work underneath the bridge in mid April to early May, which they had earlier requested to do.

The bridge would remain open during that time frame and close in June.

Working around bridge closure

With the bridge closing during prime festival season this summer, some event organizers came to council with proposed changes for this year’s summer events to work around traffic disruptions.

Susan Williams, president and CEO of the Venango Area Chamber of Commerce, proposed that in view of the bridge closure, the Oil Heritage Festival parade should be held on West Third Street this year.

The festival will be held from Wednesday, July 24, to Saturday, July 28.

“We did look at whether or not we could proceed with the parade on the normal West First Street route, and we don’t think that’s a good idea,” Williams said. “So some of you may remember, it’s been a long time ago, but we held the parade on West Third Street.”

Council member Ron Gustafson said he remembered the year that happened, and it was also related to a bridge closing.

Staging would be held in the Bouquin Circle and Mitchell Avenue area, and Williams said parade organizers would “take great caution” not to be disruptive to the neighbors or to emergency services.

“We have lots of experience laying out parades, and we’ll do our best to work with the neighbors,” she said.

From Mitchell Avenue, the parade would proceed down West Third Street to Central Avenue, where it would disperse.

Council unanimously approved the alternate parade route as well as a different location for the craft show so Seneca Street won’t need to be closed. Williams said PennDOT had offered its parking lot or Towne Square might be used.

And rather than holding the Friday night concert in Justus Park with all the work going on, Williams said the chamber is working with local businesses and restaurants to host music throughout town during the festival weekend.

Council also unanimously approved closing the Central Avenue Plaza for the Oil City Arts Council’s FAM JAM event again this year.

“Central Avenue sets up really nicely for these kinds of events because it never seems to disrupt traffic,” Gustafson said. “And it’s a beautiful spot.”

Arts Council board member Heidi Wirtner, who is coordinating the event this year, said it was held at the plaza last year for the first time, and many people were able to walk there with their children from their homes.

Jolly July 3rd also has to pack its bags and move this year because of the bridge work. Council unanimously approved moving the event to the field by the pool and the ballfields in Hasson Heights.

Arts Council board member Zach Hollis said organizers had talked to the fireworks company and determined that fireworks could still be launched from the area by the hockey rink, provided the fireworks were smaller and wouldn’t go as high.

However, because of being up on the hill and how close observers will be, “it might even be a better show than from the downtown,” Hollis said.

Event organizers had also floated the idea of trying to have a pool party in conjunction with the event, Hollis said.

“I think Hasson Park’s underutilized, and I think it’s a great use of the park,” said council member Mike Walentosky.

Junior council members

Council also appointed its first-ever junior council members on Thursday.

One current sophomore and one current junior at Oil City High School were to be selected for the two junior council seats, and council interviewed one sophomore and three juniors last month.

Council appointed sophomore Clarice Carlson and junior Seth Swidorsky as the junior council members.

The vote was unanimous except for Mayor John Kluck, who had instead proposed appointing Carlson and junior Jackson Dilks.

Gustafson said prior to the vote that with Swidorski being a welder, he believed he’d be more likely to stay in the Venango County area and invest his talents here in the future.

“They all did very well,” Gustafson added.