Longmont gets $4 million federal grant for railroad crossing quiet zones
Longmont has been awarded a $4 million federal grant toward paying the expense of creating railroad crossing “quiet zones,” the city and its congressional delegation announced Friday morning.
U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, and city officials said the federal grant — which city staff said must be matched by $4 million in Longmont budget funding — will be spent on making the improvements required for establishing quiet zones to prevent trains from having to blare their horns when they approach and pass through Longmont neighborhoods.
City Manager Harold Dominguez said the $4 million in federal funding “represents a significant step in our ability to create quiet zones throughout our community.”
“As one of the City Council’s top priorities, adding quiet zones will improve the quality of life by enhancing safety and reducing noise at railroad crossings in Longmont,” the city manager said in a statement.
A news release issued jointly by Democrat Bennet and Republicans Buck and Gardner said rail traffic through Longmont has doubled over the past 10 years.
As a result of a rule that requires trains to sound their horns at all crossings that don’t satisfy federal safety requirements – of which officials said Longmont has 17 – train horns have sounded more frequently and more intensely in the community.
The $4 million in federal funding and the $4 million in matching local funds will enable Longmont to install the sufficient safety equipment to keep trains from sounding their horns, creating quiet zones in the city.
Tyler Stamey, Longmont’s transportation engineering administrator, said in a Friday interview that local officials will now be checking details about the timetables for receiving the federal dollars and providing the local match.
City staff last year projected an overall $8.43 million in costs for the quiet zone work, including an estimated $7.92 million in construction costs, $200,000 for BNSF Railway engineering reviews, and $316,000 in construction management costs.
Longmont City Council has budgeted $1 million from this year’s city capital improvements program and another $1 million in 2021 toward the design and construction of quiet-zone improvements.
Stamey said Friday that the first quiet zone, expected to be created this year, is planned for the BNSF Railway crossing of Third Avenue.
In 2005, the Federal Railroad Administration mandated that locomotive horns be sounded in advance of all public roadway rail crossings for 15 to 20 seconds, with a minimal volume level of 96 decibels and a maximum of 110 decibels, in order to warn motorists, cyclists and pedestrians about the approaching trains.
City staff has said 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.
Staff reported to Council last July that the first priority for signal-system upgrades would be the BNSF crossings at Third, Fourth, Sixth and Longs Peak Avenues, along with the closing of the Fifth Avenue crossing, at an estimated $3.2 million in construction costs.
That would focus — if the upgrades and changes also are approved by BNSF and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission — on reducing train horn noise in eastside Longmont neighborhoods in an area generally bounded by Main Street on the west, Ninth Avenue on the north, Lashley Street on the east and Third Avenue on the south.
The overall projects are expected to include closing of Fifth Avenue where it crosses the tracks and Terry Street where it crosses the tracks, staff told Council last summer, because Longmont wants to build a new at-grade Boston Avenue crossing as part of the city’s long-term transportation plans.
BNSF’s policy has been that it will oppose new at-grade crossings inside Longmont unless two other existing street crossings are closed, staff said.
“This is great news for Longmont residents and businesses, and a great example of how we can help local governments leverage their investments in infrastructure improvements,” Bennet said in the news release about the grant.
“The noise from train horns has created a substantial burden on the local community and quality of life for Longmont residents for years, and this funding will go a long way toward providing much needed relief,” Bennet said.
Gardner said, “I’ve been proud to work with my colleagues to support our local communities in their efforts to address train horn noise, and today’s announcement is exciting news.
“It is important we provide our communities with sufficient flexibility, and I’m pleased the Department of Transportation recognized the importance of this project and will award this crucial grant to bolster safety and create quiet zones,” Gardner added.
The federal award is part of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Grant Program.
Buck thanked U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao “for fulfilling the City of Longmont’s grant request for their Railroad Crossing Safety Project.”
“This grant will go a long way in not only enhancing train corridor safety, but in relieving residents of the growing intensity and frequency of burdensome noise disturbances from the nearly 20 trains that run through the city each day,” Buck said.
Longmont quiet zone project priorities
The proposed order-of-priority quiet zone implementation projects, along with cost estimates by priority groups that Longmont staff presented to City Council last July:
Priority One crossings
- Longs Peak Avenue: Four-quadrant gates $800,000.
- Sixth Avenue: Four-quadrant gates, $769,000.
- Fifth Avenue: Street closure at crossing, $167,000.
- Fourth Avenue: Four-quadrant gates, $766,000.
- Third Avenue: Four-quadrant gates, $704,000.
Priority Two crossing
- 17th Avenue: Raised medians with gates, $176,000.
Priority Three crossing
- Mountain View Avenue: Raised medians with gates, $515,000.
Priority Four crossing
- Ninth Avenue: Four-quadrant gates, $799,000.
Priority Five crossings
- Terry Street: Street closure at crossing, $92,000.
- Coffman Street: Four-quadrant gates, $717,000.
- Main Street: Four-quadrant gates, $702,000.
Priority Six crossings
- 21st Avenue: Raised medians with gates, $396,000.
- Colo. 66: Four-quadrant gates, $762,000.
Priority Seven crossings
- Hover Street: Raised medians with gates, $176,000.
- Sunset Street: Raised medians with gates, $379,000.
By: John Fryar
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