In Our View: Silencing Train Horns

Neighborhood residents have a right to decide on funding their own solution



Let’s begin this discussion of train noise by cutting a break for the fine folks in the East Old Evergreen Highway neighborhood and dismissing the hackneyed argument: “You knew train horns were there when the house was built. Deal with it. If you don’t like train horns, move.”More accurate than that condemnation is this conclusion we drew in an Oct. 28, 2009, editorial: “More than complaining and demanding a government solution, these residents are simply asking for permission to solve their own problem and pay for it themselves, at no cost to the rest of us. What’s wrong with that? For this, they deserve praise.”

They still do, and as Eric Florip reported in a Sunday Columbian story, those same people are still working with city of Vancouver and BNSF Railway officials to create a Local Improvement District that would create a quiet zone free of train-horn blasts. What was described in 2009 as a “four-crossing technology” is expensive. Many residents (one survey back then showed 81 percent support) want to clear the financial hurdle by imposing a 20-year assessment on three tiers depending on proximity to the railroad tracks. Those assessments would be $177, $124 or $53 annually. The option of lump-sum single payments would be available.

Thus, the question becomes: Would you pay less than five bucks a month to make the train horns go away? Or, if you lived closer to the tracks, would you pay $14? The answer likely would vary, but we suspect affirmative responses would increase when people realize how much their property values could increase if the train horns are silenced.

To their credit, city officials are utilizing extensive public-awareness strategies. An informational meeting about the Local Improvement District for reducing train noise is scheduled for 7 to 8:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 6, at the Water Resources Education Center, 4600 S.E. Columbia Way. For more information, visit Train Horn Noise. Improvements — which would eliminate the requirement for train-horn warnings — would include new medians, extra lighting, signs and striping at the railroad crossings of Southeast 139th, 147th and 164th avenues.

What about residents of that area who don’t think the train noise is all that bad, and who don’t want to pay a new assessment? Well, first, they would be able to voice their views when a vote is taken and the collective neighborhood decision is made. Second, if they remain convinced they’re being steamrolled by the majority, they can review a community’s right to improve its own quality of life, even if it means paying more for it. One example: Some voters in the Salmon Creek area didn’t want to pay for a neighborhood library 14 years ago. But more voters did, and thanks to the 1998 passage of a $4.5 million bond issue by residents of Fire District 6, the Three Creeks Community Library enhances that area’s quality of life.

We’re not necessarily advocating approval of a Local Improvement District in the East Old Evergreen Highway neighborhood. We’re just saying the area’s residents have a right to choose, especially when they’re willing to foot the entire bill themselves.