By 1915, Syracuse still had no answer to the Grade Crossing dilemma. It had, however, “reached the conclusion that one solution had been found that eliminates the disadvantages of all other suggested solutions” (Syracuse Herald, March 18, 1915). The proposal: run the trains through a 6,000-foot long tunnel underneath the eastern section of the city.
Yes, this was a far cry from the track elevation plan that had seemed inevitable just two years earlier during the Schoeneck administration. But 1913 brought the election of a new mayor, president of Will & Baumer Louis Will, as well as an in-depth study by the Grade Crossing Commission, which submitted seven potential plans for grade crossing elimination to Mayor Will shortly after he took office. The plans, as described in a February 6, 1914 Post-Standard article, are summarized in the chart below:
|Click to enlarge|
|Syracuse Herald, September 14, 1912|
The switching of trains by means of switches located between Clinton and Franklin Streets frequently cuts off these streets for five and ten minute periods, and these switches, located as they are (causing two streets of such great importance to be shut off almost hourly), should never have been permitted at these points and should be removed. (Syracuse Herald, October 16, 1913).
Yet as the years passed, the option that once had been most readily considered, the solution that had been put in place in other upstate cities such as Rochester and Schenectady, fell more out of favor with Syracusans. Despite actual fatalities cause by grade crossings, Mayor Will spoke of the death that could befall Syracuse if elevated tracks were allowed in the city:
“If the New York Central lines were elevated through the city that would mean that the Lackawanna tracks would also be elevated,” said Mayor Will. “There would be two unsightly banks running through the heart of the city and the city would be killed.” (Syracuse Herald, June 11, 1914)
|The Delaware, Western & Lackawanna Railroad map, 1922|
“We, the members of the Commission, are agreed that in effect and appearance, no matter how sightly and well-designed an elevated structure may be, it will always be a barrier and affliction. If any other solution is practicable, elevation should not be tolerated.” (Syracuse Herald, July 28, 1914)
Though the Syracuse Herald editorial page offered this observation the next day:
The members of the City Planning Commission are agreed that the proposed elevation of the Lackawanna tracks in this city would “always be a barrier and an affliction.” It would be an affliction richly deserved, however, if the city meekly puts up with it.” (Syracuse Herald, July 29, 1914).
|Syracuse Herald, October 19, 1913|
The mayor says that, as he figures it, it will be five years before the canal bed is abandoned and that it would probably mean years of litigation when the city set about to secure the abandoned land. He is against any plan for ending the grade crossing nuisance which is going to take that length of time. (Syracuse Herald, November 24, 1914).
The efficient plan was the one that could be started immediately, and Will contended that such a plan existed:
Mayor Will said that if the commissioners and the railway authorities would agree upon the plan to have the railway tracks pass through the center of the city on the north there is no good reason why work of doing away with the grade crossings could not begin tomorrow. He is against any policy which will interfere with the beginning of the work. (Syracuse Herald, November 24, 1914).
Will favored what would later be come to known as the Northern Route: the tracks would skirt the city to the north, with a passenger station on Spencer Street, by Onondaga Lake. Will contested the railroad's claim that the disadvantage of the plan was the non-central location of the station:
Mayor Will said he believe he could prove if he had time to gather statistics that 75 percent of the cities of the United States have their railway stations a mile or more distant from the center of the city. He sees little to the argument that a railway station must be near the center of the city. (Syracuse Herald, November 24, 1914).
The mayor argued that New York Central rejected the plan outright due to their own corporate and financial interests:
Mayor Will said that he pointed out to the officials, among the [New York Central Railroad] president A.H. Smith, that extending tracks north of the city would allow the trains to run at full speed. Much time could be gained over that which it takes trains to proceed through the city at present.
“Of course what the Central wants,” said Mayor Will, “is to shorten their trackage and still be allowed to run at full speed through the city.” (Syracuse Herald, June 11, 1914)
Perhaps this gives some indication as to why Will championed the underground tunnel suggestion. The plan certainly didn’t seem more efficient in terms of time, as digging a tunnel that would begin “east of the city, somewhere in the vicinity of Greenway Avenue...run under Teall Avenue, Lincoln Park, Oak and James Street” would probably take at least the five years required to secure canal beds. Nor was it very practical, as there were questions about tunnel ventilation, and the soil, which “throughout the eastern section of the city would not lend itself advantageously to the tunneling work...it is a loose shale and elaborate supports would have to be constructed.” (Syracuse Herald, March 19, 1915). Yet the plan was efficient in one specific area: Mayor Will asserting his autonomy from the New York Central Railroad and the Grade Crossing Commission. Mayor Will did not wish to “appeal to the [railroad’s] sense of justice and good” as city leaders had fifteen years earlier. Even when the Grade Crossing Commission officially approved a plan using the canal bed on April 23,1915, with the intent of immediately entering a contract with the New York Central Railroad to construct this new route, Will made clear that he would not give up on tunnel proposal:
The idea of tunneling as the solution of the grade crossing elimination problem has not been abandoned by Mayor Will despite the fact that the members of the Grade Crossing Commission have reported adversely upon it and have proceeded to endorse another plan recommended by [Grade Crossing Commission Engineer] Henry C. Allen, providing for a depressed route through the city.
Accompanied by City Engineer Wooley, Deputy City Engineer Palmer and Commissioner Mather of the Department of Public Works, Mayor Will spent some time today looking over the surface of the land in that section of the city where it is proposed to build the tunnel.
Deputy City Engineer Palmer has been busy drawing contour maps of the vicinity, and the mayor is evidently determined to investigate the project thoroughly before endorsing any other plan. (Syracuse Herald, April 29, 1915).
One month later, he still held firm:
Officials of the Grade Crossing Commission declined today to make any comment on the Mayor’s statement in which he charged that they were wedded to the canal route as a solution for the grade crossing problem. In the statement, the Mayor again went on record in favoring of his tunneling plan.
“If he had plans which are the most logical why don’t [sic] he let us in on the secret?” asked Henry C. Allen, chief engineer. He said that he did not intend to get into any dispute with the Mayor. (Syracuse Herald, May 26, 1915).
In another ten years, Will would let the city in on his plan, when he became the driving force behind the group of prominent Syracuse businessmen and residents determined to keep elevated structures out of the city. Even more importantly, the Future Syracuse Committee, formed in 1923, wanted the decision of grade crossing elimination to be made directly by the voters. Because as Will realized during his final weeks in the mayor’s office in 1915, there was a great dispute of opinions between the Mayor, the Grade Crossing Commission, the Railroads and the people of Syracuse:
FOR THE GOOD OF THE CITY
Mayor Will has acted wisely in taking a firm stand against the settlement of the Lackawanna’s grade crossing problem proposed by the railroad company and acquiesced in by the city’s Grade Crossing Commission. If he succeeds in blocking this plan to build a huge concrete embankment through a populous section of the city, it will be one of the most important acts of his administration.
In this matter, as the Mayor says, too much deference has been paid to the railroad’s point of view. The city’s interests come first, and no plan that involves such injury to those interests as this track elevation plan does should be accepted without at least first making sure that no other solution is possible.
Other cities have solved this problem in a manner which did not sacrifice their interests to those of the railroads. Why should it be impossible for Syracuse do to so? The union station proposition was accepted in Utica. Evidently we need to take some lessons from Utica on how to deal with the railroads.
The Mayor’s suggestion that an outside expert be called in to look over the situation is a good one. Certainly no effort should be spared to provide the right solution to a problem which is of such vital importance to the future of the city. And rather than accept the wrong solution, it would be better to let matters remain as they are. (Syracuse Herald editorial, November 11, 1915).
And so matters did remain as the same. But as Will may have realized, so too would those making the decisions on these matters. The members of the Grade Crossing Commission—including Will’s own brother, Albert—had remained unchanged since their appointment in 1911 (with the exception of Alan Fobes, who stepped down after one year, replaced by Thomas Meachem). Of particular concern must have been Grade Crossing Commissioner Engineer Henry C. Allen, who started with the crossing elimination project under the McGuire administration as city engineer. When Will replaced him upon his own election to office, the Grade Crossing Commission immediately appointed Allen as their chief engineer. Now, as Will concluded his time as mayor (he did not run for reelection), Allen appeared poised to serve as both City Engineer and Grade Crossing Commission Engineer simultaneously under the incoming (Republican) Walter Stone administration. With less than two months left in office, Will not only successfully blocked Allen's plans to elevate the Lackawanna tracks, he issued a critical statement against Allen and the Grade Crossing Commission:
Mayor Will today issued a broadside against the Grade Crossing Commission and Henry C. Allen, the commission's chief engineer. He first declared that Corporation Counsel Stilwell would refuse to approve any contract calling for elevation of the Lackawanna tracks through the city and then detailed his criticisms of Mr. Allen and the commission.
The chief criticisms can be stated as follows:
First—That the plan to elevate represents the conclusions of the railway companies and one man, Mr. Allen, and that the problem is too important to be passed upon finally but one representative of the city.
Second—That Mr. Allen, and the commission have accepted the plan of the railroad to elevate in order to avoid a fight with the company and that if the commission and Mr. Allen had dared "lock horns" with the railways three or four years ago the whole crossing problem would have been settled advantageously to the city before this time.
Third—That the city should not be committed to the elevating plan until some impartial expert has gone over the whole situation. The Mayor holds that no expert has been called in for consultation yet.1
Fourth—That the companies accepted the union station proposition in Utica and other cities. Why not in Syracuse? 2
Fifth—That it would be better to wait twenty years and get the right solution of the crossing problem than to hastily select the wrong solution.
(Syracuse Herald, November 10, 1915)
With less than six weeks left in office, Will scored a final victory: the Grade Crossing Commission would hire an outside expert to conduct a study of Syracuse grade crossings. But in another decade's time, the most prominent outside voice in the grade crossing dilemma would be Will himself.
1. After making this declaration, Will discovered the 1899 Seaman study done under Mayor McGuire, which had supported elevation of the New York Central tracks, but not the Lackawanna tracks.↩
2. The Grade Crossing Commission insisted that "it would be impossible to get the Lackawanna and New York Central railways to use the same station." When Will expressed an interest in hiring the expert who eliminated grade crossings in Chicago, Grade Crossing Commission president Alexander T. Brown said "practically all the tracks in that city are elevated and that if the expert were brought here he would probably approve the elevating plans." Will immediately shot back that "as he understood it, there wasn't a railway station in Chicago that wasn't occupied by more than one railway." (Syracuse Herald, November 13, 1915) ↩