POST FALLS — Linda Cook says the incessant — and she believes unnecessary — blaring of train horns as they rumble past her Post Falls home is devastating the quality of life for herself and hundreds of others who live near the tracks.
And she wants something done about it.
“There is overwhelming interest in getting those horns shut down,” says Cook, who lives near the Union Pacific crossing on Chase Road, one of seven UP crossings through town.
Help may be on the way, although it could take years to quiet the deafening horns.
During a workshop this evening, the Post Falls City Council will discuss taking the first step to creating a “quiet zone” along the UP tracks.
City administrator Shelly Enderud said officials will consider contracting with consultant J-U-B Engineers to identify crossing improvements necessary to negate the need for blowing horns.
Those upgrades don’t come cheaply or quickly, Enderud said. Estimates to improve all seven crossings have come in around $8 million. The biggest cost is constructing grade separations like a bridge over the tracks or tunnels beneath.
And Enderud said the crossings cannot be upgraded individually. All seven must conform to federal regulations before a quiet zone can be implemented.
But there are other options far less expensive than grade separations, says Ali Marienau, transportation planner with the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization (KMPO).
For example, a quiet zone at a Burlington Northern Santa Fe crossing on Mill Avenue in Rathdrum was created in 2011 using a concrete curb in the center of the crossing that restricts motorists from weaving around crossing arms as trains approach.
The ultimate decision on what improvements are necessary is up to the Federal Railroad Administration. Even less costly options can drag on for years. It took Rathdrum about 10 years to implement its quiet zone, Marienau said.
However, Cook doesn’t believe any improvements should be required to enact a quiet zone along the UP tracks in Post Falls.
She referred to the crossings as “low impact” with slow-moving trains, arm gates in place, no pedestrian traffic and crossing lights in most instances. Given these scenarios, improvements are not necessary, Cook maintains.
“The city right now, by ordinance, could quiet (horns) down without improvements,” she said.
City officials said a study is necessary to determine what steps need to be taken to satisfy federal requirements for a quiet zone. The J-U-B study, if authorized by the council, would cost about $67,000, Enderud said.
According to the KMPO, if improvements are necessary there are limited means to shoulder the costs, including grant funding or creation of a local improvement district, which would require property owners benefitting from the improvements to pay through a special taxing district.
An exasperated Cook said the neighbors she’s talked to are willing to consider just about anything to put an end to the train horns.
“I’ve gathered a lot of signatures just walking up and down the street. There is an intense desire among people to get those horns shut down,” Cook said. “The people I’ve talked to don’t care if they have an LID imposed. They just want them quiet.”
She added: “You’ve got some people who are pretty worked up. This is going to be a really hot topic.”
The quiet zone workshop precedes this evening’s council meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the City Council Chambers, 408 N. Spokane St.
During the meeting, the council will consider entering into a professional services agreement with Keller Associates of Coeur d’Alene for a Pleasant View corridor sewer study. The $61,800 study would evaluate the feasibility of providing sanitary sewer in the near-term to the Pleasant View area in western Post Falls.