Longmont City Council to Discuss Railroad Crossing Quiet Zones, Funding
If you go
What: Longmont City Council study session
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Civic Center council chambers, 350 Kimbark St., Longmont
Longmont staff will be seeking informal city council direction Tuesday about whether to appropriate more money in the proposed 2019 city budget toward accelerating the creation of at least some quiet zones at railroad crossings.
Dale Rademacher, general manager of the Public Works and Natural Resources Department, said staff will talk to council about possible approaches to cover the initial and eventual costs of safety improvements required by the Federal Railroad Administration before trains can approach and pass through crossings without loudly blaring their horns.
That discussion — a renewal of several years of council consideration of possible ways to address train-horn noise issues — will be part of the staff presentation and council review of the $25.2 million Street Fund within the $362.79 million budget proposed for next year.
That 2019 budget, which council is not scheduled to formally adopt until October, now includes only $30,000 toward the estimated $350,000 cost of planning and designing as many as 11 such railroad crossing quiet zones.
City staff has estimated that constructing the improvements to qualify those crossings for federal quiet zone designations could cost as much as $5.4 million to $6.3 million.
In City Manager Harold Rodriguez’s Aug. 28 message to council about the proposed 2019 operating budget, he said that while there is no funding included for quiet zone construction, “staff realizes that the city council wants to evaluate funding for this purpose.”
Dominguez wrote: “If council chooses to move in that direction, we will have to make budgetary adjustments in the Street Fund to accommodate such a change.”
The major expenses in the Street Fund each year are the costs of the maintaining, rehabilitating and improving Longmont’s transportation network.
Rademacher this week said he predicts Longmont “is going to get underway” in 2019 toward creating quiet zones, which he said “is as much of a quality of life issue as it is a transportation issue.”
Street Fund revenue and state funding, however, are not expected to be adequate to complete quiet zones work within the coming five years while continuing to cover other yearly spending needs for roads, bridges, mass transit, and pedestrian and cycling networks.
Rademacher said each of those transportation-related expenses are “a wedge of the pie” and that if quiet-zones spending is made bigger, something else within the Street Fund must be made smaller.
The Federal Railroad Administration mandated in 2005 that locomotive horns be sounded in advance of all public roadway rail crossings for 15 to 20 seconds, with the minimal volume level for the horns of 96 decibels and the maximum, 110 decibels.
Improvements that must be made to establish quiet zones — eliminating the requirement that a train blare its horns each time it approaches a crossing — often include improved crossing arms; curbs and medians to prevent vehicles from going around gates; improved communications circuitry between the tracks, the train and the crossing arms; and, in some cases, localized “wayside” horns at the crossings.
Longmont has thus far failed to get a federal grant that could cover the bulk of the crossings improvements work.
Council has heard several times over the past few years from residents living near BNSF crossings who have protested about more frequent day-and-night horn blasts as trains pass through their neighborhoods.
During a Sept. 4 review of the capital improvements staff recommended including in next year’s budget, Councilwoman Joan Peck said she would like to see more money included to satisfy federal requirements for creating quiet zones, and Councilwoman Marcia Martin said she has been getting “a lot of letters” from people wanting them.
Dr. Rick Jacobi, a resident of Longmont’s Historic Eastside Neighborhood who is frustrated with the lack of progress on creating quiet zones, has made appearances at council meetings and talked to city staff on a number of occasions to argue the need for those railroad crossing improvements.
Jacobi on Monday cited studies he said show that steady exposures to high noise levels can have negative impacts on people’s health, raising stress levels and blood pressure. He said studies conducted in Europe also have indicated that chronic noise can affect the attention spans of children in schools near the high noise, and can reduce those children’s learning abilities.
When it comes to what it would cost Longmont to create the quiet zones, “the whole thing is horrifically expensive, I understand” Jacobi said . But he said train-horn noise abatement has been on the city’s budgetary “to-do” list for several years, “and people are getting upset” with the lack of progress.
He suggested it might be possible to pay part of the cost of creating quiet zones from other budget accounts, such as the General Fund or the Public Improvement Fund, without relying solely on the Street Fund to at least begin constructing quiet-zone improvements in 2019.
Consideration of spending from the Street Fund is one of several budget-related topics on the agenda.
Other budget presentations will focus on: new full-time employee positions in the 2019 budget; one-time expenses in the General Fund and the Public Safety Fund; computer system replacements for utility billing and public safety; the Airport Fund; the Longmont Downtown Development Authority; anticipated 2019 fee increases, and potential uses of projected annual $290,000 in revenue from the 3 percent tax on the retail sales of marijuana and marijuana products the city will start collecting when four city-licensed shops open late this year or sometime in 2019.
Contact Staff Writer John Fryar at 303-684-5211 or firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jfryartc