Kent City Council approves study to fund railroad quiet zone through LID

It continues to be a slow train coming but a railroad quiet zone could be arriving someday in downtown Kent.

Kent city officials are looking into setting up a railroad quiet zone so train whistles no longer boom through downtown.

Kent city officials are looking into setting up a railroad quiet zone so train whistles no longer boom through downtown.

It continues to be a slow train coming but a railroad quiet zone could be arriving someday in downtown Kent.

The Kent City Council approved on July 7 up to $150,000 for a feasibility study to determine whether a local improvement district (LID) could be formed to help pay for a railroad quiet zone, where new safety measures are installed to further separate vehicles and pedestrians from the tracks to eliminate the necessity of sounding horns at intersections.

A LID is an additional property tax fee charged to property owners who would benefit from the improvements. The feasibility study includes the costs of an appraiser, noise expert, quiet zone expert and staff time.

Councilman Dennis Higgins said at a council Public Works Committee meeting last month that he strongly supports the study.

“We have been talking about a quiet zone for many years and at this juncture the question is whether it would be feasible to create a LID to fund the roughly $3 million of work we've been talking about to implement a quiet zone,” Higgins said.

City officials started to look into the possibility of a quiet zone about five years ago. City staff said the city of Vancouver formed a LID to pay for a quiet zone.

City staff has met with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and Union Pacific railroad officials as well as the Federal Rail Administration to make preliminary determinations about improvements needed for a quiet zone. An appraisal consultant is needed to determine the potential for special benefits conferred by a LID.

“My feeling is given the size of the project and the large amount of properties that will benefit from a quiet zone that the LID amounts would be very modest probably pretty small compared to the railroad grade separations we have looked at,” Higgins said. “I feel very strongly a LID will be welcomed by the community to finally achieve the goal of quieting the railroad traffic through our downtown corridor.”

Higgins said more people would be attracted to live or work in downtown without the loud horns. Train engineers are required to blast their horns in a two long, one short and one long sequence when approaching a crossing. This must begin as a train approaches a crossing and continue until the train has physically entered and taken control of the crossing area.

“People who come here to make investments or thinking about moving here, one of their first comments is the railroad noise,” Higgins said. “We don't realize how much it has inhibited economic growth and development downtown. I feel we need to get a quiet zone in place.”

City staff actually recommended calling it a quieter zone rather than a quiet zone since several wayside horns might need to be installed at a few of the intersections. A wayside horn is an automated warning system that involves a pole-mounted device that gives an audible warning to drivers and pedestrians. The sound of this system reportedly does not carry as far into surrounding neighborhoods as the train whistles.

Fifty or more trains travel through downtown each day and that number is expected to increase with more coal and oil trains going through Western Washington.

Aaron BeMiller, city finance director, said the funding for the feasibility study could potentially come from the city’s street operating fund but that has yet to be finalized until he meets with the council’s Operations Committee and Mayor Suzette Cooke.


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