It’s a long track ahead in the quest for peace and quiet for one area of the Spokane Valley.
However, the City Council on Tuesday said it was willing to get on board, at least for the time being, until it’s determined just how much it would cost to silence whistles and move along idling locomotives.
The Valley council heard a report from Neil Kersten, the city’s public works director, who has been investigating the feasibility of establishing “quiet zones” in the area of Union Pacific crossings at Vista and Park roads. Last month, residents from those areas complained of long, prolonged train horns in the dead of the night that have wakened children and rattled nerves.
Neighbors in that area – some of whom related stories of disrespectful engineers who are a bit too eager to blare whistles through the crossings above and beyond what is necessary – presented the council with 170 signatures who said that the UP and Canadian Pacific trains that rumble through have increased in recent years to the point where something needs to be done.
Kersten, however, told the council that while the Federal Railroad Administration has a specific, laid out process for creating quiet zones, the process is a long, expensive one.
“There are not many of these that have been done,” Kersten said, estimating it would be around $500,000 for each crossing. “And there’s quite a bit of cost.”
One successful quiet zone has been established in Spokane Valley at the Burlington Northern Santa Fe main line crossing at University Road just south of Trent Avenue. Motel owner Tony Lazanis, who operated a business just across the street from the crossing, enlisted the help of state legislators in order to secure grant funding for the necessary upgrades in the 1990s. Enhancements included concrete barriers and added crossing arms in order to prevent vehicles from entering the crossings when trains are approaching.
Getting the grants, however, is tricky as there are no specific funding programs for the creating of quiet zones, Kersten said. However, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission does offer small grants (around $20,000) for safety improvements.
However, even if the city had the money now, it could still take years for the railroad to approve the design and improvements, Kersten said. He added that he is still working with U.P. officials on crossing improvements at Pines Road near the freeway.
“We still haven’t resolved who pays for what,” he said.
Council Member Rose Dempsey suggested that city staff dig deeper into how to begin and what, exactly, it would cost to make the improvements.
“I think we should start the process,” she said.
Mayor Tom Towey agreed, saying “the neighborhoods are suffering.”
He added he hoped the city could at least work with the railroad to try to get the trains from blocking the crossings for long periods of time.
City Manager Mike Jackson, however, said he isn’t optimistic about that.
“We do know that we really have very little authority,” he said, but added that more information would be gathered and a follow-up report given at a future meeting.
“We’ll go from there,” he said.