Evanston aldermen voted Monday to comply with a request from the Union Pacific Railroad and remove the fabric covering shielding the rusted surface of the Emerson-Ridge-Green Bay viaduct from view.

But they stopped short of taking any action to paint the rusting structure after being told that would likely cost taxpayers about $350,000.

Union Pacific, which had $6 billion in net income last year and which increased its quarterly dividend by 10 percent earlier this month, has long refused to paint its viaducts and bridges — requiring communities that wish to have the work done pick up the cost.

It appears other railroads, including CSX, have the same policy, although one small, privately-owned railroad reportedly covered 10 percent of the cost of a recent bridge painting and illumination project in Clarksville, Tennessee.

Union Pacific, which had a bridge collapse on Shermer Road in Glenview in 2012, killing two people trapped in a passing car, tells Evanston officials it inspects all its viaducts here twice a year, but city staff say the company refuses to share the inspection reports citing fears the inspection data could fall into the hands of terrorists.

After an inspection revealed damage to the Central Street viaduct, Public Works Director Dave Stoneback says, UP did repair and repaint that bridge in 2000.

Union Pacific says the fabric covering at Emerson-Ridge-Green Bay was supposed to only be temporary and that it interferes with safety inspections of the viaduct.

In 2015 a national advocacy group said nearly half of 250 bridges its “citizen inspectors” visited in 15 states had deteriorated badly.

It called for stronger federal oversight of the railroads that own an estimated 100,000 bridges across the country. Congress has mandated annual bridge inspections, but so far has done nothing to impose any aesthetic requirements.

Related story

What to do with the ugly viaduct (2/18/19)

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Expose all for all to see

    Complete exposure – that’s as it should be.  Put the full extent of infrastructure’s structural deterioration on view for all citizens to be aware of. Continuing to ‘paper over’ our decline will not serve to lend public support to coming up with payment of the cost for the necessary repairs.

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