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Monday, October 05, 2009

Broken Bow, Neb., begins railroad quiet zone

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They don't look like much at first glance: Narrow, freshly installed medians jutting up in the middle of the road on either side of two railroad crossings, the Grand Island, Neb., Independent reports. But since Sept. 1, those medians have allowed Broken Bow's east side to finally experience some respite from the horns of the trains that regularly rush through town.

And for the rest of the town, it's just a taste of what's to come when the project's finished.

"It's made a difference at the first two crossings, to the point where people are saying, 'Let's get this thing finished,'" said Scott Spanel, a Broken Bow city councilman and owner of a small business on the town's east side.

Raised medians prevent the need for the loud train horns because they go all the way to the crossbars -- keeping cars from being able to cross the tracks when the bar is down.

After three years of planning and negotiating, Broken Bow's first railroad quiet zone went into effect last month. The town also has in its sights the completion of quiet zone projects at three other intersections and the closure of a fourth, which would make Broken Bow the first town in Nebraska with a citywide quiet zone. (A crossing at Memorial Drive on the far east side of town, outside city limits, will remain a standard one.)

Broken Bow is one of three towns in the area attempting to establish quiet zones under a 2005 federal ruling. Aurora has installed raised medians at its First Street crossing and is awaiting a quiet zone designation on it, and plans to install wayside horns -- which blow directly toward oncoming traffic when trains are approaching -- at two other intersections.

Grand Island, meanwhile, has been working since 2004 to make its downtown a quiet zone, with current plans calling for raised medians at Oak and Pine streets and wayside horns at Walnut and Elm streets.

Broken Bow's plan is the most extensive, with six intersections involved. The First and Fifth avenue crossings became a quiet zone last month, and the city is waiting for paperwork to be completed in order for wayside horns to be installed at its Ninth and 10th avenue crossings downtown, said city council President Mike Evans.

The council voted to close the 14th Avenue crossing earlier this year, and Evans said it's waiting on paperwork for that to be finished, too. The last crossing to be renovated will be the Memorial Drive crossing on the town's west side, which will see work begin after the 14th Avenue crossing is closed.

Evans estimated the entire project's cost will end up at about $450,000, but he said it's been well worth the price and effort. His Evans Feed Co. office sits just a few dozen feet from the tracks on 10th Avenue, and train horns have at times made doing business difficult.

The quiet zone project came out of another, more heated train-related issue in 2006, when a viaduct that would have closed all of downtown's existing railroad crossings was proposed. Evans helped shoot down that proposal before it reached a vote, but he and Spanel were part of a committee formed as a result of the controversy.

Evans, who spearheaded the quiet zone project, said while BNSF has been busy but cooperative, running details through the company and the Nebraska Department of Roads has bogged the project down.

"You get all those guys to sign a piece of paper, it's a miracle," he said.

The slow process has produced one unexpected benefit, allowing the city to spread the project's cost over several budget years, softening the financial blow.

Both Evans and Spanel said public support has been largely positive, with the exception of some residents upset at the closing of the 14th Avenue crossing. (Both men said they couldn't justify the $200,000 it would have cost to make the crossing a quiet zone.

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