By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
A plan to speed up trains through one of the busiest junctions in Metro East has gotten a significant financial boost from the Federal Railroad Administration.
The Lenox Interlocking Reconfiguration Project in the Mitchell area outside Granite City received $5,083,719 last month, a healthy portion of the money said to be needed to realign trackage and ease a major bottleneck.
“It has significant freight impact to the system in our region,” said Mary Lamie, executive director of the St. Louis Freightway, an arm of Bi-State Development. “This has been on our list of infrastructure projects the last three years for the Freightway and for the Leadership Council of Southwestern Illinois.”
The overall project was first estimated by local officials as $14.8 million, although some work was done late this past year. Before the new grant was announced, some $10 million was said to be needed, meaning about $5 million still to come from public or private sources.
While the yard is owned and operated by Union Pacific Railroad, five rail services use the property, those being three Class I railroads — Union Pacific, BNSF Railway and Kansas City Southern — and two smaller carriers, Alton Southern and Norfolk Southern.
“It’s considered a public-private partnership project where the railroads, the Illinois Department of Transportation and Amtrak are collectively working together from a funding perspective,” Lamie said.
The facility, located just north of where Illinois Route 203 crosses under Interstate 270, was built in 1924. It is marked by the Lenox Tower, a throwback to railroad depots of the past. The tower features an outdated, 80-lever switching system that Lamie said looks a bit like an old foosball game.
The switching is no longer a factor, according to Union Pacific.
“In November we switched over to what we call centralized traffic control. That means our dispatchers in Omaha (Neb.) have control of switching if they need to move a track or a rail in Mitchell,” said Kristen South, spokeswoman for UP. The tower is scheduled to be removed as part of the changes.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
A Madison County government organization is poised to play a vital role in helping staff a giant Jersey County development when the state officially reorganizes its regional workforce boundaries later this year.
Come July 1, Calhoun and Jersey counties will be added to Workforce Area 22 represented by Madison County Employment and Training. The timing is coincidental but will come just as developers move forward with plans to build the Mid-American International Gateway Business Park, a half-billion-dollar rail hub envisioned in Jersey County.
The workforce boundary changes began when the U.S. Department of Labor began monitoring its 10 economic development regions in Illinois and discovered that the one involving Southwestern Illinois counties did not conform to legislation set up for local Workforce Innovation Areas. Essentially, the counties must be the same in each grouping.
“The legislation says you cannot have a split between economic development regions and the local Workforce Areas,” said Tony Fuhrmann, director of Madison County Employment and Training. “So, the Department of Labor said Jersey and Calhoun counties need to move with us.”
The southwestern Illinois Workforce Area 22 also takes in Bond County. Jersey and Calhoun are presently part of Area 21 based in Carlinville.
The primary responsibilities of the department are to administer employment and training programs under the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act and other state and federal funding sources. Employment and Training receives its funding from the U.S. Department of Labor, which distributes grant monies to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development and then to 22 local workforce areas throughout the state.
Everyone involved believes the shuffle of counties will be beneficial, particularly as Jersey County picks up its efforts to support the new rail hub, planned in the southern part of Jerseyville.
Originally, the addition of Jersey and Calhoun was not expected to take place so quickly.
“The original plan was the counties would move by July of 2020,” Fuhrmann said. But (the feds) gave local counties the option to file a waiver. Jersey and Calhoun counties made the request to move. They also said they didn’t want to wait until 2020; they wanted to do it in 2019. So, we’re fast-tracking it.”
In the past month, the four counties involved have been working on the necessary intergovernmental agreements, he said.
Meetings were slated late in February to sign all the agreements, and Fuhrmann said he didn’t anticipate any snags since the shift will be beneficial to the entire region.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
Merrill Ottwein is seemingly a man of a million stories and one of his favorites is the day a monkey chased a fellow veterinarian around an exam room at Hawthorne Animal Hospital in Glen Carbon.
The monkey, it turned out, didn’t take kindly to being jabbed with a hypodermic needle. The animal grabbed the offending instrument and took off after the offender, Dr. Art Lippoldt. Ottwein was in the next room and went to investigate the calamity.
“I heard the distinct sounds of metal pans on a hard floor. And people yelling. Art went to inject a shot of penicillin into the monkey’s rear and the monkey just exploded. It took 10 or 15 minutes to calm everything down. Art had picked up a pan lid and was using it as a shield.”
Ottwein chuckles at the memory, one of many collected from his years as a veterinarian — as well as various turns as a humanitarian, state senator, real estate developer and musician. Today, he still dabbles in real estate, still plays the trombone and still tells the tales.
Ottwein turns 90 in late April, and the family is planning an open house celebration in May. He and his wife of 68 years, Grace, have four children, Ann, Emily, Amy and Paul, and numerous grandchildren.
Ottwein graduated in 1956 with a degree in veterinary medicine from the University of Illinois. He set up his first practice from his home along Illinois Route 159 in Glen Carbon. He had been raised on a farm in Troy and many of his first “clients” were farm animals.
“Those were some of the last days when veterinarians could establish a practice from scratch,” Ottwein said. “It’s gotten so complicated and expensive they can’t do it anymore.”
Three years into his profession, he established the first Hawthorne Animal Hospital, located further north on Route 159, in a new building across the highway from what is now the Cassens dealership.
“There wasn’t much out here,” he recalled. “We had the old elevator, the Country House (restaurant) the feed mill and Heck’s service station on Glen Carbon Road. That was about it.”
Ottwein took on Dr. Joe Helms as a partner in the early 1960s and eventually sold the business to him. Other owners have since purchased the clinic and built a much bigger location on Cougar Drive in Glen Carbon.
Suvir Dhar, a shareholder focusing on mesothelioma litigation, has been named to the St. Louis Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty list for 2019.
“The firm is very proud of the work Suvir has done and continues to do both in and out of the courtroom,” said Simmons Hanly Conroy Chairman John Simmons. “His dedication to our clients and commitment to serving those in need directly reflects our values. He is well-deserving of this honor and we are proud to have him on our side.”