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Quiet zone inches forward

 

Posted 3/29/16 (Tue)

By Kevin Killough
Tioga may get a little quieter, but it depends on what the community wants.
The downtown renovation project last summer included plans for a “quiet zone” at the crossings of Main Street and 105 Avenue. These crossings allow trains to pass through town without blowing their horns as much.
Besides extensive improvements that need to be constructed at the crossings, the zones require a lot of planning and regulatory approvals. These weren’t received in time for the construction to happen last year. 
It might not be such a bad thing. With bids coming in much lower for projects, the city is saving a lot of money doing the work this year. 
Last year, the project was bid out for $550,000. The project is now estimated to cost $370,000, as it’s currently planned.
Richard Lane, a principle with SRF Consulting Group, discussed plans and options for the construction, with the commission at the last regular meeting. 
The plan
The approach SRF suggests is a lower-cost option. The road will be divided by 8-inch-high medians, which prevent cars from going around the gate arms. 
There will also be some upgrades to the curb and gutter. 
Additionally, the city will install a “pedestrian maze” at the sidewalk crossing. These are designed to force people going through them to move one direction and then the other before going across the tracks. 
Basically, it makes pedestrians, especially those on bikes, look both ways before crossing.
“Sometimes bicyclists try to scoot through,” Lane said. 
These are not required, but SRF recommends they be installed. 
The 105th Avenue crossing will need some other improvements. 
“That roadway is a little narrow,” Lane said.
In addition to widening the road, the gate arms will need to be moved. The plans also recommend pedestrian mazes at that crossing. 
There will also need to be some extra crossing material, which needs to be provided by the railroad since it’s their property. Lane said any improvements the railroad needs to do can add extra time to the project. 
Risks and problems
Lane explained the improvements lower the risk of accidents at the crossing. These risk levels are rated by the Federal Railroad Administration by a number called the Quiet Zone Risk Index.
The average QZRI for all crossings across America is 14,347. 
The Main Street crossing is rated at 19,000. If train engineers do not blow any horns at the Main Street crossing that goes up to 34,000 without any improvements to the crossing. 
The improvements, if built as recommended, will reduce the risk to 6,499. 
Tim Sundhagen, whose family owns the grain elevator just south of the crossing, said the medians will interfere with unloading of the elevator, which requires semis to park on the street. 
He also said farm equipment moves across 105th Avenue and asked if the medians would prevent that. 
“That crossing is already a problem. You have 40 or 45-foot headers going across there,” Sundhagen said.
Lane said the city has the option of using four-quadrant gate systems, which have arms on both sides of the road and the crossing. However, these raise the cost of the project “substantially,” Lane said.
“There’s a wide range of costs on these things, and we do look at medians as a lower-cost solution,” Lane said.
He said it’s possible farm equipment could still move headers over the medians.
Needed?
Sundhagen also questioned whether the city should be spending the money right now on what is basically a luxury. 
“If times are tough, I’d can it,” he said. 
Lane said the quiet zone, if implemented, will not eliminate all horns. The train engineer always has the option of using horns when there are any safety concerns, such as work crews on the tracks. 
If the city decides to move forward on the plan, a notice of intent to build the quiet zone goes to the FRA and BNSF for their comment. The letter doesn’t obligate the city but gives the other parties 60 days to comment on the plan. 
If the plan is approved, then the city can build it. After the construction is reviewed and found to meet the proper specifications, the city can issue a notice of establishment. Once that happens, the regular sounding of the horns will stop 21 days later. 
The commissioners took no action on the matter and instead agreed to discuss it with the constituents to determine what the community wants to do.
“We represent them,” said Drake McClelland.
Ironically, the train horns were blowing as the measure was tabled.