Chesterton Tribune



Town Council still finds cost a big hurdle to RR quiet zones

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Stuart Franzen’s Voice of the People on railroad quiet zones in Monday’s edition of the Chesterton Tribune occasioned no little discussion at the Chesterton Town Council’s meeting Monday night.

In fact, Franzen’s letter appears to have prompted a minor outcry from folks who, like Franzen, would like the council to implement a “quiet zone” for trains as permitted under Federal Railroad Administration (FAA) rules.

In properly designated quiet zones, train engineers are freed from the FAA requirement that they sound their horns at all at-grade crossings, of which the town has six: on North Calumet Road, South Calumet Road, Fourth Street, North Eighth Street, North 15th Street, and North Jackson Blvd.

Here’s the hitch, however, as Member Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, explained on Monday. Quiet zones require each at-grade crossing to be retrofitted with double crossing arms and curbed median islands, at a cost which three years ago was estimated at $250,000 per.

Even supposing that cost hasn’t increased over the last couple of years, the total expense of retrofitting all six of the town’s at-grade crossings would be in the neighborhood of $1.5 million. That’s a pretty big chunk of change which isn’t likely to be found under the town’s sofa cushions, DeLaney noted. “What roads don’t we pave? What sidewalks don’t we put in? It’s a matter of priorities.”

DeLaney did take the time to reply to a comment which he received by e-mail just before Monday’s meeting, from a resident who suggested that, if the town can afford to outfit the CHS football stadium with artificial turf--or otherwise to purchase and operate an LED sign on Ind. 49, just south of East Porter Ave.--it can afford to implement a quiet zone.

DeLaney said in reply that the CHS football stadium is property of the Duneland School Corporation, a separate taxing unit entirely from the Town of Chesterton; and that the LED sign is the property of the Duneland Chamber of Commerce, which bought and installed the sign at its own expense. The Town of Chesterton had nothing to do with either investment, DeLaney said.

DeLaney did acknowledge several of Franzen’s points. “Yes, this community was built along the railroad tracks,” he said. “Yes, train traffic has increased. Yes, other communities are doing quiet zones.”

He added, however, that “just because we don’t talk about an issue publicly doesn’t mean things are going on behind the scenes.” On the contrary, Town Manager Bernie Doyle has been “looking at it for at least a couple of years. But it would be an expense. And working with railroads isn’t always easy.”

There is, on the other hand, an alternative, indicated Member Jim Ton, R-1st. Closing one or more of the Downtown at-grade crossings, reducing thereby the number at which a train engineer is obligated to sound the horn.

The problem would be this: which crossings would folks be willing to abandon? And how would closing a crossing or crossings impact the Police and Fire departments’ response time?

As Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg reminded the council, Norfolk Southern regularly closes its grade-crossings for maintenance. Say, for instance, that the council agreed to close Fourth Street, and then one summer Norfolk Southern temporarily closes South Calumet Road for track repair. Suddenly there’s no way to cross the tracks east of 15th Street.

That scenario did not appeal to Fire Chief John Jarka at all, who was firm in his belief that closing Fourth Street would negatively affect the CFD’s response time.

The council, while agreeing that implementing a quiet zone right now doesn’t appear to be feasible, did instruct Doyle to prepare an up-to-date report on cost estimates for retrofitting the at-grade crossings.

LOIT Account

In other business, members voted unanimously to create a new account--Fund 257--into which it’s local option income tax disbursement from the state can be deposited and held.

That disbursement totals $338,722.67, 75 percent of which must be used on infrastructure improvements. The 25-percent balance is unrestricted.

Under state law, the town could qualify to double that amount by submitting to the Indiana Department of Transportation a “pavement management plan” grading the town’s roadways from 1 to 10. Schnadenberg said that the Street Department is currently at work on that plan.


Posted 5/10/2016





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