Crews will install new fences in the spring near two Kent railroad crossings to help keep pedestrians from trespassing over the tracks.
The fences are the early steps as the city moves toward adopting a quiet zone downtown so that train engineers will no longer have to sound their horns as they speed through Kent.
The city received two $10,000 grants in December from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to pay for the fencing.
“We applied for and received the safety grants to install fences at locations that encourage pedestrians to cross railroad tracks at roadway intersections,” said Chad Bieren, city Public Works deputy director. “It is important that pedestrians cross at intersections, crossing at other locations is illegal.”
The first grant will pay for about 250 feet of 6-foot chain-link fencing along the BNSF Railway tracks about one-third of a mile north of the East James Street crossing and east of the tracks.
“It will connect to existing fencing and deter crossing the tracks between James Street and SR 167,” Bieren said.
The other grant will pay for about 330 feet of fencing on both sides of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks about 100 feet south of the Willis Street crossing.
“We anticipate that grant funds will cover the majority of the fence installation costs,” Bieren said “Any additional funding necessary to complete the work will come from funding dedicated to the quiet zone.”
Kent plans to spend as much as $3 million to establish a quiet zone. The funds would pay for railroad safety measure upgrades (traffic signals, flashing lights, medians, gates, pylons, signs, fencing) at as many as 13 crossings. City officials plan to use funds from the business and occupation tax to pay for the project, according to city documents.
Fence installation is scheduled to start in late spring and be completed by mid-June, Bieren said.
Mill Creek neighborhood residents proposed the idea of a quiet zone to the city about eight years ago to improve quality of life for people who live and work in the area where the loud horns disrupt sleep and conversations. City staff has worked with Union Pacific and BNSF Railway officials to come up with a safety plan so horns are only needed in emergencies rather than each time a train approaches a traffic crossing. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) must sign off on a final agreement.
The grade crossings to be included in the quiet zone on the BNSF railroad mainline, on the east side of downtown, are South 259th Street, Willis Street, Titus Street, Gowe Street, Meeker Street, Smith Street, James Street and South 212th Street.
The grade crossings included for the Union Pacific mainline tracks, west of downtown, are Willis Street (State Route 516), West Smith Street, West Meeker Street, West James Street and South 212th Street.
Construction could start in 2019 on the upgrades at the crossings.
The council approved in December 2017 to spend up to $3 million to establish a quiet zone, but most of that money from general fund reserves, the street capital budget and the capital resource fund were never spent on the project as negotiations among city, BNSF and Union Pacific staff about what work needs to be done to improve railroad safety without horns took longer than expected.