Chesterton Tribune



Town Council finds the cost of engineering RR quiet zones higher than expected

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Almost exactly a year ago, in May 2016, Chesterton resident Stuart Franzen submitted a Voice of the People to the Chesterton Tribune, urging the Town Council to implement so-called “quiet zones” at the town’s railroad grade-crossings, as permitted under Federal Railroad Administration (FAA) rules.

Franzen’s VOP occasioned no little comment at the council’s next meeting, chiefly on the expense of retrofitting the five Norfolk Southern grade-crossings in question to conform with the FAA’s quiet-zone rules. At the time Member Emerson DeLaney, R-5th, estimated that cost at $250,000 per, or $1.25 million for the whole job, which according to the then most recent information would entail the installation of double crossing arms and curbed median islands: “inhibitors” to prevent motorists from going around the gates.

Four months later, in September, Member Jim Ton, R-1st, suggested that in fact the total cost might be considerably less, but still considerably expensive: around $750,000. In any case, Town Manager Bernie Doyle asked Mike Jabo of DLZ to prepare ballpark numbers on what the town could expect to pay just for engineering.

And there the matter has stood.

Until Monday’s council meeting, at which Franzen appeared seeking an update on the issue. “It’s just horrendous,” he said. “Our home is 2,000 feet from the tracks and we don’t want to keep putting up with it. Anything we can do to help support you, to get this done as soon as possible.”

“You’re not alone in your goal,” Ton told Franzen. “It is a shared goal with us.” But, Ton said, the council is still assessing Jabo’s report. “We’ve got some new numbers. I don’t think we’re ready to talk about the numbers.”

In particular, Ton noted, “We’ve discovered that some of the inhibitors may not be necessary and others less expensive than we thought. But we were taken aback by the unanticipated cost of engineering,” which he said Norfolk Southern would perform itself but charge to the town.

“We are looking at this seriously,” DeLaney emphasized. “But we’ll be lucky to see parts of it in place by the end of next year.”

“I’ve got a railroad behind my house,” DeLaney added. “I knew it was there when I moved in. I don’t like it. But the town was built on railroads.”

DeLaney did strongly suggest to Franzen that, if he really wants to move the process along, he should consider speaking to the Porter Town Council, inasmuch as two of the grade-crossings in question--North 15th Street and North Jackson Blvd.--are actually in Porter’s jurisdiction. “It would behoove you to make contact with Porter,” DeLaney said.

The other three grade-crossings, all in Chesterton: South Calumet Road, North Fourth Street, and North Eighth Street.

Under FAA rules, in properly designated and retrofitted quiet zones, train engineers are freed from the requirement that they sound their horns at all grade-crossings.

NIRPC Report

Later in the meeting, Ton reported on news from the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC’s), of whose Executive Board he is the immediate past president.

* Item 1: the largest package of Transportation Improvement funds in NIRPC’s history has been approved, coming in at $1.5 billion. That amount includes the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District’s West Lake Extension and its double-tracking project between Michigan City and Gary. “Projects this large are complex in their timing and sequencing, involving everything from air-quality conformity to environmental justice to public outreach, all with critical deadlines to be met,” Ton said. “I want to relay my thanks to NIRPC staff for working closely with NICTD to make sure there were no hiccups moving through the process.”

* Item 2: President Trump has signed Senate Bill 496, which officially killed the U.S. Department of Transportation’s move to merge metropolitan planning organizations and--in particular--to merge NIRPC with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. Ton argued last year that the proposed merger would leave Northwest Indiana with the short end of the stick when it came to federal transportation funding. “This was a major distraction that is now behind us, and we can now focus on continuing the good cooperation and coordination we already enjoy with our regional neighbors,” Ton said.



Posted 5/24/2017




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