Silence train horns in Montgomery? : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Silence train horns in Montgomery?|
|Village board to consider funding quiet zone study |
|by John Etheredge|
Montgomery Village Board members said this week they are interested in establishing a railroad quiet zone in the village's downtown.
Board members reached a consensus Monday evening to consider funding an engineering study needed to create the quiet zone.
Village President Matt Brolley said the board and village staff will add the engineering study to a list of capital projects that could receive funding in the village's 2014-15 fiscal year budget.
Village staff will soon begin work on the budget, which the board typically adopts in April, prior to the start of the new fiscal year on May 1.
Engineering Enterprises, Inc. (EEI) of Sugar Grove, the village's engineering consultants, have submitted a proposal to the board to complete the study in three phases at a cost of approximately $20,000.
Brolley said the board could include funding for the first two phases of the study, which EEI estimates would cost just under $9,000.
"This will help the people who live there (in the downtown area), so it's an important project to the board," Brolley said, adding, "It's just a matter of finding funding for these capital projects."
The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway's (BNSF) busy mainline tracks border the village's downtown area to the west.
Currently, horns from the passing freight and Amtrak passenger trains can be heard every day throughout the downtown area as the trains approach the railroad crossings at Case and Webster streets.
The Case Street crossing will soon be permanently closed and replaced by a new crossing one block north at Watkins Avenue. The Watkins Avenue crossing will be constructed as part of the Illinois Department of Transportation's (IDOT) ongoing reconstruction of the Ill. Route 31 and U.S. Route 30 interchange. The interchange project is scheduled for completion next August.
Over the years, downtown area residents have asked the board to investigate the possibility of establishing a railroad quiet zone.
If the village proceeds with the study during the next fiscal year and is able to establish a quiet zone, the now routine train horn blasts would be prohibited in the village.
Mike Pubentz, the village's public works director, told board members that EEI's estimate for the study does not include the cost for any actual improvements that may be needed at the Watson and Watkins street crossings.
Pubentz confirmed the improvements that might be required could range from very minimal to costly.
"We can't get into the level (of improvements necessary) tonight, because we don't have all the information. I don't think that would be fair to anyone," Pubentz said.
He added the study cannot be completed until contractors for IDOT finish the construction on the Watkins Street crossing next year.
Village Administrator Jeff Zoephel said village staff is recommending that the study be delayed until work on the Waktins Street crossing is complete.
Board member Steve Jungermann questioned whether or not the BN-SF could refuse the village's quiet zone request.
Peter Wallers, EEI president, said in seeking the approval of the quest zone his firm would work on the village's behalf with the BN-SF and two government agencies that have jurisdiction over railroad crossings: the Federal Railroad Administration and the Interstate Commerce Commission.
"They have a set procedure that we would follow," Wallers said, adding, "What we would do is rate each intersection to determine whether it is eligible or not to have enough safety points to qualify for a railroad quiet zone (designation). Once it is determined that a crossing meets the criteria, the railroad can't say no."
Wallers added, "The process is basically to insure that automobiles can't short-circuit the warning devices that are in place."
In a his study proposal letter to the board, Wallers noted his firm has completed similar studies that have led to the creation of railroad quiet zones along BN-SF tracks in three area communities: Aurora/Sugar Grove township; Sugar Grove and Plano.
When questioned by board members, Wallers said the first two phases of the study would need to be completed in order to determine the cost for improvements at the two crossings.
Board member Denny Lee questioned why the village would pay $20,000 to complete a study when the actual improvements needed to establish quiet zones at the two crossings could be as low as $5,000."
"That doesn't make sense to me, Pete," Lee told Wallers.
"Let me just say we are dealing here with the Federal Railroad Administration, the Burlington-Northern Santa Fe Railway and the ICC. It's not that simple," Wallers said.
"Yea, you can't win with these guys," Lee said, adding, "They'll block a track for 20 minutes. They don't care and maybe a handcart will go by. It's almost ridiculous."
Wallers said, "It's a lot of working through the system. It can be frustrating."
But Wallers emphasized that he is recommending the village have the first two phases of the study completed because it will provide the board with cost estimates on the necessary safety improvements at the two crossing.
Board member Stan Bond noted that noise from the train horns is a matter of continuing concern for a number of village residents, based on his own trustee webpage.
"It's a topic that keeps coming back to us and I look forward to the day when we can truly address it," he said.
Bond noted that visitors to his webpage are currently ranking train horn noise as the seventh most visited topic out of 50 that he has listed.
"As of tonight there have been 3,159 visits to that topic on that webpage. Now, maybe all those people are from some other town, but I doubt it. I think there is some strong interest in this topic," he said.
Bond noted that curtailing the train horn noise could help make the village's downtown area more attractive to future residential and business development as envisioned in a transit plan for the downtown previously adopted by the board.
"If we look at this in a bigger picture it may be one of the baby steps that we take toward really revitalizing downtown as a place to invest residential dollars," Bond said.
Board member Doug Marecek agreed with Bond.
"This could impact residential development in the downtown area down the road," Marecek said.