U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., is happy to see the launch of a federal website that allows people to report blocked railroad crossings.

He pushed for funding for the site in a recently passed appropriations bill, according to a release.

“Blocked rail crossings are impacting Illinois communities much too often,” Durbin said in the release. “The new Federal Railroad Administration website will help empower the public to hold the freight railroads accountable when they are blocking crossings that run through our state causing unnecessary traffic delays and jeopardizing the safety of my constituents. The FRA must keep Illinois rail moving forward as efficiently and safely as possible.”

As of now, problems stemming from blocked railroad crossings — motor vehicles backing up for significant times, pedestrians attempting to pass between stopped cars, etc. — are left up to states or local governments to solve. In Dubuque, Bellevue, Iowa, and East Dubuque, Ill., for instance, signs stand at crossings with phone numbers to call in case of a long blockage.

First responders often have to figure ways around blocked crossings.

“If we have a call that’s on the other side of a crossing that’s blocked, usually the sheriff’s office has already called and notified the railroad,” said East Dubuque Fire Chief Joe Heim. “My understanding is they are very responsive. Either they’ll speed the train up or they will stop.”

The idea behind the website is, if trains blocking crossings are impeding auto and pedestrian traffic or causing safety concerns, then the data collected from the website can measure the scope of those problems.

“Our ability to address this issue is only as effective as the data we collect,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said, in Durbin’s release. “Therefore, we are hoping to engage citizens and all levels of government to help spread the word about this important tool.”

When you visit the website, you’re greeted with the following message:

“Use this form to report a blocked crossing. Please report only once for each blocked crossing. There are no federal laws or regulations pertaining to blocked crossings. Therefore, this information is only being used to track the location and impacts of blocked crossings.”

Behind that is a map of apparently every railroad crossing in the country. Users can click on one of those or click a “Nearby” icon if they wish their location to be known or type an address into a search bar.

The site then asks if the user is a member of the general public or a law enforcement professional.

If the answer is the former, a form opens with question-and-answer fields about the user’s problem — reasons the crossing was blocked, length of blockage, if first responders were impeded, if pedestrians were trying to pass, etc.

Municipal officials in some cities said the blockages aren’t much of a problem.

“Overall, I think we’ve been pretty fortunate,” said Bellevue City Administrator Abbey Skrivseth.

But they said the project is a good idea.

“Most of the time we know if it’s blocked, but it will be useful to us to be able to look it up and see before we head out,” Heim said.

To report a blocked crossing, visit FRA.DOT.gov/blockedcrossings.

Iowa GOP announces caucus sites

The Republican Party of Iowa continues its march toward the state’s Feb. 3 caucus, despite already having a Republican president in the White House.

Several other states’ parties announced early this year that they would be forgoing their respective primary processes because Trump is an incumbent. But three Republican primary challengers are attempting to usurp the party’s nomination.

In Iowa, GOP Chairman Jeff Kauffman has maintained that it would both be unfair and a missed opportunity to not hold the caucus.

So the party released the locations of more than 1,600 caucus sites statewide this week.

“Iowa GOP staff have been on the ground for months, identifying locations for every precinct and working with hundreds of volunteers across the state to organize for the 2020 caucuses,” the release stated. “They are also holding caucus trainings, so precinct chairs and reporters are well-prepared on caucus night.”

Dubuque County Republican Party Chairwoman Alexis Lundgren succeeded in getting the additional Peosta site she wanted. For a full list of locations, visit the Republican Party of Iowa website.

“We are committed to holding another smooth and successful caucus on Feb. 3,” Kauffman said in the release.

Steyer ad aims at Grassley

Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer has outspent all but fellow billionaire candidate Michael Bloomberg in advertising buys recently.

One of those ads takes aim at Iowa Republican U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley directly. Over a black-and-white photo of Grassley, the social media ad reads “GRASSLEY NEEDS TO GO. AMERICA NEEDS TERM LIMITS.”

“Why do we need term limits? Two words: Chuck Grassley,” the advertisement from Steyer’s campaign reads. “Join my campaign and let’s clean up Washington.”

Grassley has held elected office since 1959 and became a member of the U.S. Senate in 1981. 

Steyer, despite a massive spending effort, has so far failed to gain serious traction in the polls. He qualified for the December Democratic debate, but has not yet ascended to the top of a crowded field. 

Calendar

  • 2:45 p.m. Monday, Dec. 30, Maquoketa Middle School, Maquoketa, Iowa — Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg will hold a town hall.
  • 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2, Delaware County Fairgrounds, Manchester, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden will hold an event for his Democratic presidential campaign.
  • 10:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 3, Charles & Romona Myers Center at University of Dubuque, 445 N. Algona St. — Biden will host a campaign event.
  • 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 3, UAW Local 94 Hall, 3450 Central Ave. — Democratic Dubuque County Supervisor Dave Baker will hold a kickoff event for his re-election campaign. Food and beverages will be provided. Contributions will be accepted.
  • 10:30 to 11:45 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, Decker Hotel, Maquoketa — Iowa Rep. Andy McKean, D-Anamosa, and Iowa Sen. Carrie Koelker, R-Dyersville, will host a session preview and listening post.