There were no rumblings from neighbors – only toots from council members touting the benefits of thriftiness – on whether or not to move forward with further research into establishing railroad quiet zones in the city of Spokane Valley.
Ultimately, the train of thought Tuesday by the council was to save the unbudgeted $82,551 it would cost to conduct a study of the affected neighborhoods and perhaps bring the matter back for further consideration at a later date.
“This whole project is not a priority with me at this point,” said Council Member Chuck Hafner, adding there are other priorities before the city during this “critical” economy. “My recommendation is to not accept the study.”
Hafner was supported 5-1 by the rest of the council. Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels – who last month announced his trepidation with moving forward with the study – was not present.
The only supporting vote came from Council Member Bill Gothmann, who noted, “This was brought to us by petition from the neighbors. This is a citizen-originated action.”
Last fall, residents living near Union Pacific crossings at Vista and Park roads north of Trent Avenue lined up to tell council members anecdotes of disrespectful train engineers who laid on the horn a little too long and of idling engines that shook homes through the night. Over 170 signatures were presented to the city asking for the establishment of “quiet zones” that would prohibit the use of the trains’ bells and whistles in those areas.
It didn’t take long, however, for city officials to find out that the endeavor would be a long and expensive one. Early estimates figured it could cost up to $500,000 per crossing to make the necessary fixes.
Last month, the council agreed to table a motion to go ahead with the study in the hopes of gathering more information on alternatives or even if the quiet zones were still needed. Earlier this year, some residents told the council the situation had gotten better and no one offered testimony at Tuesday’s meeting.
Earlier this month, the council directed staff to get cost estimates on “wayside horns,” which are mounted at the crossing gates and are directed at traffic rather than the whistles that emanate from the trains themselves. One company interviewed said that work could be done for as low as $65,000 to $180,000 per crossing, according to Inga Note, senior traffic engineer.
Gothmann argued that the study, which would be conducted by David Evans and Associates Inc., could answer some of those questions. But the majority of the council said it was time to apply the brakes for now.
“I think we have other options,” said Council Member Arne Woodard.
In other action, the council eagerly agreed to allow city staff to pursue a partnership with the developers of the Granite Pointe Apartments that could result in Mansfield Avenue connected between Mirabeau Parkway and Pines Road. Currently, there is a small gap that is currently occupied by a six-plex housing unit, which would have to be purchased from the land owner and removed for the project to go forward.
Steve Worley, senior engineer, said the city would be more likely to receive Transportation Improvement Program funding through the partnership, where the private developers agree to provide up to 10 percent of the total project cost as a portion of the city’s typical 20-percent match. In this case, the city would only have to pay $98,839.
Tom Hamilton, the project’s developer who is looking to add more apartments to the area, said the move is a “no brainer” for the city.
Hafner said he is curious what would happen if the owners of the six-plex aren’t interested in selling for the road to go through.
“Condemnation,” Worley said, adding, “We would ask the council first if we would go that route.”