Railroad crossing near the intersection of Aquarena Springs Drive and Post Road. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
San Marcos residents may endure less train noise by the end of 2011. City officials say the change would positively affect property values and quality of life.
City staff expects to begin a first phase of a railroad quiet zone project by July 2011.
The project would involve the construction of safety improvements to railroad crossings. When those improvements are made, trains can legally blow their horns only when danger is noticed on the tracks, or when bells, gates or lights are not nonfunctional.
Trains are currently required to blow their horns 15 to 20 seconds before crossing all city roads. The federal government will not allow railroad quiet zones until safety measures at rail crossings are enhanced.
There are 33 railroad crossings in the city limits and extraterritorial jurisdiction, according to Wade Benton of HNTB, a city consultant. Current plans are for 21 railroad crossings to become quiet zones, though the city may include more now being analyzed for cost estimate purposes only. Last July, city staff supported creating quiet zones at every railroad crossing. City staff has estimated that implementation of quiet zones at all crossings may cost $4.5 million.
“Currently, we are working to complete phase I within the $600,000 funding (from the city),” said Kristy Stark, public information specialist on capital improvements projects for the City of San Marcos.
Phase 1 of the railroad quiet zone project will involve making safety improvements to the tracks between the Patton Street and Riverside Drive rail crossings. Improving the Patton and Riverside crossings would involve roadway improvements, utility relocations, property acquisitions, design fees and agreements between the city and Union Pacific Railroad, Stark said.
At a city council meeting on July 6, then-San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz said the city set aside $700,000 about four years ago to implement quiet zones.
“Part of our challenge is that we started talking about this long before New Braunfels, and somehow they could get it done,” Narvaiz said to staff at the meeting.
At that same meeting, Councilmember Kim Porterfield said New Braunfels has 38 crossings and expects to complete its railroad quiet zone project in five years.
Narvaiz asked city staff how much money had been spent of the $700,000 already allocated. City of San Marcos’ then-Capital Improvements Projects Director David Healey said approximately $30,000 had been spent as of July 6.
So far, the city has taken traffic counts, inventoried all railroad crossings, and made preliminary estimates regarding the proposed first phase, Stark said.
San Marcos Assistant City Manager Laurie Moyer said staff intended to implement quiet zones only where it would be easiest to do so. However, after discussions with various citizen stakeholders groups, city staff determined it would be best to implement quiet zones in the entire city.
“City staff has made several attempts to move this project forward,” Moyer said. “But I’ve heard consistently now that while there are areas in the city that would be very easy to implement, those are not areas where everyone lives.”
Healey said city staff began looking at the feasibility of a limited number of quiet zones “in approximately 2006 and 2007.” Healey said Kimley-Horn and Associates began identifying priority railroad crossings in 2008 and 2009.
At the July 6 meeting, then-Councilmember John Thomaides said he thought $700,000 had been allocated for crossings surrounded by neighborhoods.
Moyer responded that implementing the quiet zones at rail crossings surrounded by neighborhoods with current funding would not result in contiguous quiet zones. Moyer said Union Pacific would be uncooperative with implementing non-contiguous quiet zones, which, she said, would include rail crossings in the Rio Vista and Victory Gardens neighborhoods.
“It has to be a long enough stretch,” Moyer said. “So, that’s the challenge.”
Stark said engineering firm Kimley-Horn and Associates is determining the cost of making improvements to the 21 crossings planned so far as quiet zones.
If the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) approves the city’s application to establish quiet zones, the improvements must also be authorized by the city council, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), and/or Union Pacific Railroad, Stark said.
“The application to FRA has not yet been sent and the entities have their own time frames and are making no guarantees as to approval time,” Stark said. “We will meet with FRA to request a typical review time from them.”
Before construction, the project would have to go through the city’s construction bid process and the council would have to approve the contracts.Email | Print