Quiet zones advance in Vancouver

Improvement districts will address train whistles

By Stephanie Rice, Columbian Vancouver city government reporter

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The Vancouver City Council on Monday approved a resolution of intent to form a local improvement district so 467 homeowners near the Columbia River can pay for the railroad crossing safety upgrades necessary for establishing quiet zones at Southeast 139th, 144th, 147th and 164th avenues.

The city started working on quiet zone proposals soon after the Federal Railway Administration issued guidelines for the zones in 2004.

Several residents testified Monday in favor of the proposal. Nobody objected to the proposal, which will be finalized later this spring.

If the project stays on track, construction will start this summer and train horns could be silenced — except in the event of an emergency, such as someone on the tracks — by fall.

The idea of an LID has been around since 2005, when the Federal Railroad Administration approved the concept of quiet zones, said Matt Ransom, the city's project development and policy manager.

Details emerged earlier this year on a three-tiered system in which people who live closer to the tracks would pay the most money.

The current estimate of the project, including design work, is $818,000. The city could issue 20-year bonds, and homeowners could make annual payments with their property taxes or make one discounted, early lump sum payment.

The owners of 218 lots labeled "Tier 1" could pay $177 a year or an early payment of $2,475. Owners of 95 "Tier 2" lots could pay $124 a year or an early payment of $1,733. Owners of 154 "Tier 3" lots could pay $53 a year or an early payment of $743.

Resident Roger Parsons, among the neighborhood leaders pressing for the quiet zone, said the project might cost less than estimated. If bids come in 10 percent higher, residents will be notified.

"We know we are footing the bill, and we're not signing a blank check," Parsons told councilors.

Parsons said there's 64 trains in a 24-hour period; each horn blast lasts a minimum of 15 seconds.

"These train noises can be heard north of Cascade Park, so we're talking about thousands of people who will be affected," Parsons said.

In surveys in 2009 and this year, 81 percent of the respondents said they favored forming an LID. More than 60 percent of people filled out the survey.

Mayor Tim Leavitt thanked the residents for working with city staff and stepping up to foot the bill.

"You are setting a fine example, frankly, for other neighborhoods in our community because the reality is, government can't do everything for everybody all the time," Leavitt said. "We're coming to that recognition more and more in our country."


Stephanie Rice: 360-735-4508 or stephanie.rice@columbian.com