Quiet zone agreements signed in Little Canada and Shoreview

Quiet zones will be created at crossings along a stretch of railroad tracks just over 2.5 miles long, going from southern Shoreview down the west side of Little Canada at a cost of nearly $2 million, funded by the state. Safety improvements like crossing arms will be installed at the crossings, making it no longer a requirement for crossing trains to use their horns. From the top marked by dots, crossings will be improved at North Owasso Boulevard, Jerrold Avenue, Woodlyn Avenue, South Owasso Boulevard, Lit
Quiet zones will be created at crossings along a stretch of railroad tracks just over 2.5 miles long, going from southern Shoreview down the west side of Little Canada at a cost of nearly $2 million, funded by the state. Safety improvements like crossing arms will be installed at the crossings, making it no longer a requirement for crossing trains to use their horns. From the top marked by dots, crossings will be improved at North Owasso Boulevard, Jerrold Avenue, Woodlyn Avenue, South Owasso Boulevard, Little Canada Road, Demont Avenue, County Road B2 and County Road B. (courtesy of Google Maps)

Railroad should complete work by early 2016

Almost a year after the Minnesota Legislature set aside nearly $2 million intended to lessen the noise at railroad crossings in Little Canada and Shoreview, deals are in place to move forward with railroad quiet zone plans.

Little Canada approved deals with the state and the railroad at its May 11 rescheduled meeting, following the lead of the Shoreview City Council at its May 4 meeting.

Increased train traffic and the noise it produced over the past couple years in western Little Canada and southern Shoreview has been keeping residents up at night. Per federal law, trains approaching street-level crossings that lack crossing arms and other features must sound their horns at the crossing.

Previously, trains and their horns were so infrequent as to be of small concern; now, residents dread the multiple horn blasts that can occur morning and night. The booming oil industry in North Dakota has recently led to trains traveling through the region much more frequently than in the past.

“Hallelujah ... that’s an aye,” said Shoreview Mayor Sandy Martin in voting to approve the deals, which should put an end to the horn blasts by early 2016.

Headaches

Martin has long said the train noise is one of the most significant quality of life issues she’s dealt with in her 20 years in the position. Now, with nearly all details of implementing the quiet zones covered—contracts and design plans—she said it comes down to doing the actual construction work.

Federal law dictates that certain traffic controls must be in place at crossings, including crossing arms, signage and medians, if trains are to forgo their horns.

Canadian Pacific, doing business as Soo Line Railroad, will install such measures at eight crossings in the two cities, with the state footing the bill; the cities will perform minor work on their streets as well.

“I think that both cities have done everything they can,” Martin said. “The ball is in, or will be very soon, in Canadian Pacific’s court.”

Having recently spoken to residents who live near yet-unimproved crossings, Martin said their very real headaches caused by train noise persist.

Martin said people are in the midst of a “mental health emergency” and are at “their wits’ end.” She added that some residents wondered why, a year after money has been allocated, they’re still waiting for relief.

“Some people think there’s some complacency on the part of the railroad,” Martin said, though at the meeting to approve the plans she said Canadian Pacific has become more responsive to the city than in the past.

A spokesperson for Canadian Pacific declined to comment on a construction timeline because some contracts have yet to be finalized.

A matter of timing

Officials in Little Canada turned their ire at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the agency responsible for releasing the funding, for what the city saw as slow work on the matter.

A message regarding quiet zone progress posted on the city’s website on April 4 said,

“[W]e are concerned that the necessary approvals from MnDOT are not progressing as quickly as we would like.”

City administrator Joel Hanson said the city received the necessary quiet zone paperwork just days before it took the matter up at its May 11 meeting, and said some of the delay was because MnDOT had never previously funded quiet zones in such a manner.

Without a solid construction timeline in place, Hanson said at the meeting, final details of what type of work will be done at crossings is still up in the air.

“We’re still hopeful we’ll have [quiet zones] by this fall, but if it doesn’t [happen], I won’t be surprised given the lack of certainty that’s surrounded this thing since it’s taken as long as it has,” Hanson said.

Martin, in a sentiment echoed by Little Canada officials, said the cities were fortunate to receive the funding, which was championed by Rep. Jason Isaacson, DFL-Shoreview, when and how they did. Getting in the regular queue for MnDOT quiet zone funding, Martin said, likely would have meant disbursement in 2017, with necessary construction being completed as late as 2019.

For the six crossings in Little Canada that will be made into quiet zones, at Woodlyn Avenue, South Owasso Boulevard, Little Canada Road, Demont Avenue, County Road B2 and County Road B, the city is receiving $1.25 million and is looking to pay about $110,000 or more out of its own coffers to completely cover expenses.

Shoreview made two noisy crossings into quiet zones last year, piggy-backing the necessary work onto existing construction projects at Victoria Street and Lexington Avenue at a relatively low additional cost.

The two crossings in Shoreview where quiet zone work will be done, at Jerrold Avenue and North Owasso Boulevard, will each cost about $245,000 each to improve.

Martin said residents won’t find relief until all the crossings are completed, as the noise from one crossing can carry a long way. She said she’s pleased that the city, state and railroad have made it this close to ending a long-standing problem, though she understands others’ frustration with the length of the process.

“From my vantage point, [it’s] great success, but when you’re waking up at 4 a.m., you wonder why it’s that difficult,” she said.

Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7824. Follow him on Twitter @mmunzenrider.

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