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Questions about political party registration, abandoned rail lines, possible radio interference and free air in this week's Mailbag. Plus, a former Central basketball player, faded pavement and more. And best news of all, no Golden Corral questions.

"What do the strips at the bottom of the "I" stand for in the UI's shield logo (right)?"

It's a reference to the columns and military history of Memorial Stadium, said Kent Brown, the UI assistant athletics director.

"I don't remember how I registered for the current political party that I'm registered in, but is there a way for me to switch parties? And why do I have to affiliate with a party at all, I normally vote for a candidate not a party."

Illinois does not have party registration. It does, however, have open primary elections. You are free to switch parties from primary to primary, voting Democratic first and Republican next, or vice versa. The reason for primary elections is to have members of a political party choose who they believe will best represent their party in the general election, rather than have party bosses make the selection.

"It appears that the railroad crossing at Market Street in Bondville has been filled in. I know the tracks haven't been used recently, but have those rails been officially abandoned?"


"How often are the railroad tracks used along Route 10 from Champaign to Bondville? The railroad crossing at the intersection of Route 10 and Rising Road going north has no arms to stop traffic. It is very difficult to see down the tracks, due to tall trees unless you are right upon the crossing. I have been told these tracks are inactive; Is this true?"

According to the Illinois Rail Map 2018, published by the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Commerce Commission, the line is still active. The same is true of the National Rail Network Map published by the federal Surface Transportation Board.

Further, the Surface Transportation Board does not list it as abandoned.

An Illinois Commerce Commission railroad grade crossing website pegs the average number of daily trains at the Rising Road crossing at zero.

"Has Pekara opening on Prospect and Springfield led to an uptick of accidents at the corner? It's chaos every time I drive by there. Any chance the city would study the congestion as far as exiting and entering the business?"

Champaign Public Works spokesman Kris Koester said that Champaign Police have not seen a recent increase in accident reports over past years.

"It is likely there was more congestion in/out when the gas station/convenience store was there," he said.

"No matter what car I'm driving, what frequency I'm listening to or what the weather happens to be that day, the radio always cuts out in a 2-block radius around Neil and Church streets in downtown Champaign. I travel quite a bit for work across the region and to Chicago, and this never happens to me anywhere else. What gives? It can't just be me who has noticed this."

You didn't say whether you had a broadcast or satellite radio (and when I tried to email you, it bounced back, indicating a bogus address). I drove through the same area a few times and had no outage on my car radio. I also checked with radio engineer Ed Bond, who said that AM signal interference is common, especially around power lines, but that he'd never heard of a car radio cutting out in a particular area — unless it is a satellite radio. That's a common occurrence when the satellite signal is blocked by a tall building or a cell tower.

"I was wondering if Illinois has a law (like some other states) requiring gas stations to offer free air for tires if a person purchases fuel there."

There is no law in Illinois, either in the Motor Fuel Sales Act or the Gasoline Storage Act, that requires stations to offer free air.

"Your question and answer regarding street-sign switches around various Champaign schools made me wonder if drivers were bound to obey these signs when staff has forgotten to flip them back. That happens with some regularity at the school near my home and I've seen it at other schools too, in many cases over the weekend."

Koester said it would be up to any police officer in the area to determine whether to enforce a flipped-down sign.

"It is likely that if it is not during school hours, then it would not be enforced," he said. "In the past, when public works has been notified of signs being left down, we have worked with (the Champaign school district) to gain compliance. Providing more specific location information may help alleviate the issues."

"Whatever happened to Bailey Dee, the basketball player from Champaign Central who was supposedly cut for racial reasons? Was there ever any resolution on the claims of activists? Did he sign with a major college?"

Dee (right) is a freshman on the basketball team at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

"Is the bar entry age limit still 19 on campus? If so, why? Makes no sense to me."

Yes, the bar entry age is still 19 and there hasn't been any recent push to change it. Here's a story from nearly five years ago with some of the arguments from both sides.

"I regularly travel westbound from Race Street after dark on Windsor Road. When the road surface is wet, it is very difficult to see the pavement markings, particularly between Race and Lincoln Avenue. What government entity is responsible for this maintenance, and why has this unsafe condition been allowed to remain for so long?"

Carol Mitten, acting public works director in Urbana, responds: "We appreciate that your reader has brought this concern to the city's attention. A nighttime inspection of this section of Windsor Road was performed in 2018 by a trained inspector. At that time, the reflectivity of the markings was found to be adequate. However, it is not uncommon for pavement markings to deteriorate faster than usual on older asphalt pavements like those on Windsor Road west of Race Street.

"Due to the concern about safety, we will send our trained inspector out at night soon. If the pavement marking reflectivity is found to be too low, we will either refresh the markings in the spring when the weather allows, or we will add it to our 2019 Pavement Marking project, which is expected to occur later this summer."

"When I patronize certain businesses on the east side of South Neil Street in Champaign, I'm always aware of how very close I am to passing railroad traffic. Was this ever an issue in deciding to allow the construction to occur? It seems I'm sometimes seated at a restaurant table closer to a train than if I was stopped at some street crossings."

Champaign's planning and development director, Bruce Knight, said the land is privately owned and met all the city's development regulations.

"What happened to Millie Otto's column that was published every Wednesday? It hasn't been in the paper for three weeks."

A quick check through The News-Gazette archives shows that Otto's "My Amish Home" column has been in our Wednesday Food section and also on our website every week since the beginning of December (that's as far back as I went). And she'll be in there again next week. Perhaps our reader simply missed it; Millie's column usually appears on the second Food page.

Here's a link to this week's column.


Tom Kacich is a columnist and the author of Tom's Mailbag at The News-Gazette. His column appears Sundays. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@tkacich).