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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Revised plans proposed to quiet disruptive train horns

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Proposed changes to Scottsbluff, Neb., city intersections could put establishing a quiet zone throughout the community on the fast track, the Star-Herald reports. City Manager Rick Kuckkahn told the Scottsbluff City Council that a current plan "could completely silence the town (of train horns)."

He said he believes work on railroad crossings could begin by the summer. The council meet Feb. 12 for a strategic planning session and establishing a quiet zone seemed to be among its top priorities from discussion at the meeting. Reconfiguration intersections throughout the community, starting at Ninth Avenue and going to Avenue I, would be necessary to get BNSF trains to quiet their horns.

"In my view, it is an all-or -nothing proposition," Kuckkahn said of the need to get all the city's intersections done at once instead of staggering them as previously discussed. "...If a train has to hit its horn one time, I argue that it is just as disruptive as hitting it three or four times through the city."

A preliminary plan was presented to the council and it removes some items previously discussed by the council. For the first time in years of discussion on quiet zones, a plan was presented that would not require the City of Scottsbluff to install wayside horns at the major intersections.

Three intersections, one of them being Broadway, were proposed for wayside horns in previous plans. Kuckkahn told the Star-Herald that horns cost an estimated $50,000 each and would result in additional costs, including installation and maintenance.

Modifications at railroad crossings would increase public safety. Medians would be put in at the crossings, which are designed to prevent drivers from driving around crossing arms. Curb work and sidewalk work are "simple" modifications planned for at most of the city's crossings.

The Broadway intersection would be the one in for the most changes and the "most complicated," Kuckkahn said. In the proposed plan, East Overland would no longer dump out onto Broadway, as the street would be closed between First Avenue and Broadway. Kuckkahn said traffic could access Broadway by turning onto First Avenue and then turning onto 14th Street, 15th Street or the other subsequent streets.

Ninety- to 100-foot medians would be installed at the Broadway crossing. Traffic would be able to continue to access West Overland from Broadway on the south end of the crossing.

A portion of Railway Street would also be closed.

Council members also suggested that landscaping and other improvements should be part of the proposal.

The council spoke briefly about planning for an overpass as part of the quiet zone study. However, Kuckkahn said that engineers advised to plan crossings without planning for an overpass.

"An overpass is so far out - we are talking 20 years - that a crossing would be in operation during that time," he said.  "We really need to put into place improvements at crossings now."

During that time, the city could be positioning itself for an overpass, including obtaining funds for the project and planning property purchases.

The plan will be considered by state transportation, Federal Railroad Administration and BNSF officials before being put into action. Council members also promoted public information sessions to present final proposals to the community.

With other communities having adopted similar plans, Kuckkahn said he expected to gain approval for the proposal, which saves costs over previous proposals, such as $150,000 for crossing arms, and allows for modifications if BNSF proceeds with plans to install double tracks along the rail corridor.

"If we don't have something going within a year, something has gone wrong," he said.

Mayor Randy Meininger noted that it is the most frequent issue that citizens speak to him about.

"If there is one comment that I receive the most from people, it is, ‘When are the train horns going to stop?'" he said.

Kuckkahn stressed that the proposal presented during the council meeting was a preliminary draft. Changes are expected, especially after council members provide feedback at individual crossings.