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City Council to consider quiet zone easement on Willmar Avenue

The railroad crossing on Willmar Avenue Southwest is expected to become a quiet zone — where the sounding of a locomotive horn is not required because additional safety features are installed. A committee of the Willmar City Council took action this week to recommend an agreement to obtain an easement from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway for the required work. The full council is expected to act Monday. (Tribune photo by Dan Burdett)

WILLMAR — Establishing a railroad crossing quiet zone on Willmar Avenue Southwest took another step forward under action taken this week by the City Council’s Public Works/Safety Committee.

The committee voted to recommend the council approve an agreement and easement with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway that will allow the city to construct the quiet zone at the Willmar Avenue crossing.

According to experts, when a quiet zone is implemented, additional steps must be taken to ensure the safety of motorists. Those steps can include installation of full crossing gates, flashing lights to compensate for the horn warning and median barriers to prevent motorists from crossing the tracks.

The council will consider the committee’s recommendation Monday night. The Planning Commission approved the easement about a month ago. The city charter requires the Planning Commission to review property purchases, sales, easements and acquisition or disposal of property by the city.

The easement for the piece of ground measuring 100 feet by 100 feet will provide the width necessary for the city to construct the quiet zone, said Bruce Peterson, acting public works director.

The proposed easement cost is $15,000, which is slightly more than the $12,500 appraisal obtained by the city. However, Peterson believes the increase is worth it to avoid delaying the project.

The price requested by BNSF is at the low end of what the railroad has been requiring for easements, said Peterson.

“To me, that was close enough on a project of this scale that it’s in no one’s best interest to delay the project and argue over that amount,’’ Peterson said.

The city has not yet advertised for construction bids for the crossing work, but is proposing to build the crossing this summer. Revenue from the local option sales tax will pay for the easement and associated realignment of Willmar Avenue that will be constructed into the old airport/new industrial park.

Peterson said the realigned Willmar Avenue will be the main connector through the industrial park. The sales tax was primarily intended for redevelopment of the former airport and this is a necessary transportation link into that park.

The existing portion of Willmar Avenue between 22nd Street Southwest and Industrial Drive (former state Highway 40) will be eliminated, he said. A portion currently serving the entrance to the Jennie-O Turkey Store parking lot will become a driveway.

Another quiet zone is already planned for the Trott Avenue Southwest crossing and could be built ahead of the Willmar Avenue crossing.

Bids for this summer’s street projects including the Trott Avenue quiet zone were opened April 2 and Duininck Inc. of Prinsburg submitted the low bid of $88,241. Central Specialties Inc. of Alexandria submitted a higher bid of $98,857.

Peterson said the city is ready to award the quiet zone contract after the council holds the assessment hearing May 6.

Willmar has eight railroad crossings. Quiet zones would eliminate what some city residents and council members say is a noisy detriment to their quality of life.

The federal government, in response to concerns raised by the Federal Railroad Administration about increased collisions at railroad crossings where train locomotive horns are banned, enacted the Swift Rail Development Act in 1994.

The act mandated the secretary of transportation to issue regulations requiring the use of locomotive horns at crossings, but authorized the agency to make reasonable exceptions.

In 2005, the Federal Railroad Administration enacted rules that allow quiet zones to be established at railroad crossings, provided certain safety measures are enacted that prohibit motorists from crossing the tracks when a train is approaching.

In other business, the committee recommended the council declare costs to be assessed and order preparation of the assessment roll for this year’s street improvement projects.

Besides submitting the low bid for the Trott Avenue quiet zone, Duininck Inc. submitted low bids for street reconstruction including Kandiyohi Avenue Southwest and other projects.

The committee also recommended the council set May 6 as the date for the assessment hearing.

Also, the committee recommended the council petition Kandiyohi County to transfer authority over portions of County Ditch 23A and three associated branches located inside the southeastern city limits from the county to the city.

State law allows the city to petition the county to transfer the Ditch 23A public drainage system inside the city limits to the city.

Jared Voge, interim city engineer, said the transfer will provide for the city’s orderly management of storm water without obtaining permission from Kandiyohi County and other property owners along the ditch and outside of the city’s corporate limits.

Voge said that under state law, costs associated with transferring water management authority from the county to the city will be the responsibility of the city.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150