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Bonding money should spell relief from train noise for Shoreview and Little Canada residents
Weary residents of Shoreview and Little Canada can expect some future rest from train noise now that Gov. Mark Dayton has signed into law state bonding money that will be used to construct railroad quiet zones in the two sometimes sleepless cities.
On May 20, the cities were granted nearly $2 million to improve street-level railway crossings in order for them to meet federal railroad quiet zone standards.
Rules developed by the Federal Railroad Administration, which took effect in 2005, mandate that all trains approaching street-level crossings must sound their horns four times, beginning no more than 20 seconds before the train reaches the crossing.
As the crossings are improved with upgrades like crossing gates and medians, the federal horn requirement can be waived, and as soon as next summer train noise should be greatly reduced.
“This is really, really going to impact so many people,” Shoreview mayor Sandy Martin said. “I don’t know of an issue that has had as profound impact on peoples’ quality of life--especially in southern Shoreview--as the train noise.”
Little Canada city administrator Joel Hanson said his city was “extremely excited and very relieved” to have bonding money secured and it would also have a large impact on his community.
“It’s taken some pressure off our taxpayers and enables us to move more quickly,” he said. “It’s still going to take at least a year, but at least we know we have funding.”
Little Canada Mayor Bill Blesener echoed the city administrator.
“Now that we have the guarantee of the money, we need to quicken our pace and get our preliminary plan done,” he added.
State Rep. Jason Isaacson, who worked with House Leader Paul Thissen to ensure that funding for the quiet zones would move swiftly, said he had intimate knowledge of the train noise issue.
“I all of a sudden noticed that traffic was picking up, then I moved,” Isaacson said, adding that he now lives across the street from tracks in Little Canada. “I went from anecdotal evidence to daily evidence.”
Quiet the horns
Previously, train traffic in Shoreview and Little Canada was so minimal that the associated noise was of little concern. Now, however, due to the improving economy, the movement of oil out of the Bakken formation in North Dakota and other factors, train traffic in the area has increased exponentially and the constant din of horns has been keeping residents up at night.
Per the bonding bill, Little Canada will receive $1.25 million to upgrade six railroad crossings, while Shoreview will receive $500,000 to upgrade two railroad crossings. Shoreview will use city funds to upgrade two others so a total of ten crossings across the two cities will meet quiet zone standards.
As outlined in a city report, the Little Canada crossings that would be improved are at Woodlyn Avenue, South Owasso Boulevard, Little Canada Road, Demont Avenue, County Road B and County Road B2, at a cost of about $250,000 to $350,000 each, depending on specifics at the site.
All the crossings above would be upgraded with gates, “No Train Horn” signage and new medians, save the crossing at B2, which is already eligible to be a quiet zone. That crossing will have signage and medians installed as increased safety precautions.
All Little Canada quiet zones would be nighttime quiet zones with prohibitions towards train horn use from 10 p.m. until 7 a.m.; according to the report, all the crossings are high traffic enough to still warrant horn use during the day.
Two crossings in Shoreview, those at Jerrold Avenue and North Owasso Boulevard, will be upgraded using state funding at a cost of roughly $250,000 each.
At a May 19 meeting, the Shoreview city council voted to move forward with improvements to crossings at Lexington Avenue and Victoria Street which could be completed and approved as quiet zones by August. As discussed in the meeting, these crossings would be full-time quiet zones in order to establish a baseline expectation of no train horn use.
The mayors of both cities said they will work closely with their neighboring city in order to coordinate the quiet zones as best as possible.
Blockage and backups
Allison Seaborn, a Little Canada resident who lives near tracks on Demont Avenue, said she was discouraged by previous city meetings about the noise and was worried about her property value, but now is buoyed by the prospect of some noise relief.
“I’m excited now. There’s still work to be done with the trains, but I’m very encouraged about the quiet zones,” she said.
Even with the established zones, there is no real expectation of a dramatic decrease in train traffic, and extreme wait times at railroad crossings will still be a concern. Isaacson said that some delays have lasted up to six hours, which is “unacceptable” because such blockages can cut off emergency vehicles from sections of the cities.
Isaacson said the next step would be working with Minnesota’s national congressional delegation, as railroad oversight occurs at the federal level.
“The railroads aren’t going to go away--[traffic is] actually probably going to increase,” Blesener said. “Might as well, as long as we have no control except to establish quiet zones.”
Mike Munzenrider can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.