The Kent City Council made it loud and clear that it wants to establish a quiet zone at downtown railroad crossings so train engineers will no longer need to blow their horns as they speed through town.
The seven-member council informally agreed at a Nov. 21 workshop to spend $3 million on the project as part of the 2018 city budget adjustment. The budget proposal will go for approval to the council’s Operations Committee on Dec. 5 and to the full council on Dec. 12.
The funds for a quiet zone would pay for railroad safety measure upgrades (traffic signals, flashing lights, medians, gates, pylons, signs, fencing) at as many as 13 crossings. The council plans to spend $1.4 million in general fund reserves, $600,000 from the street capital budget and an estimated $1 million (if costs go that high) from the capital resource fund to pay for a quiet zone.
Kent’s general fund reserves budget is expected to hit $20 million by the end of the year. The council already agreed to spend about $1.2 million of that fund next year to help build a YMCA on the East Hill.
”A lot of the things we are talking about are safety issues that we need to look at for downtown, not just for the quiet zone, (such as) the extension of pylons (traffic channeling devices) because people are driving around them and fencing so people can’t continue to run across the track,” said Councilwoman and Mayor-elect Dana Ralph.
Mill Creek neighborhood residents proposed the idea of a quiet zone to the city about seven 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.
Councilman Jim Berrios said he had concerns about costs going higher than $3 million if the FRA increases safety measures needed for a quiet zone and that the plan would turn into something more than an one-time cost. Councilman Dennis Higgins responded that the council hasn’t spent any funds yet.
“My understanding is once you’ve reached an agreement with UP and BNSF and the FRA looks at that plan and blesses it, we will know what the cost will be,” Higgins said after he heard a short report from City Public Works Director Tim LaPorte about the costs. “So if we get into this next year and you have the final plan and all of a sudden the cost is say $5 million, this council hasn’t extended the money at that point and has the option to cancel the project if they want.”
LaPorte agreed the council could back out at that point if costs go too high.
Council President Bill Boyce supported the quiet zone plan.
“It’s more about safety, it’s important to have as much safety as we can around the railroad tracks,” Boyce said. “It’s something we need to do. And the fact it is a one-time event makes it easier for me to live with it.”