Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thankful for Helena's Railroad Quiet Zone, the new Benton Crossing, and the fiscally responsible governance that afforded this investment in safety.

Next Tuesday, December 19th, Helena's Railroad Quiet Zone will take effect thanks to safety improvements at rail crossings throughout Helena. Engineers will continue to sound train horns anytime as needed for safety, but the requirement to sound horns at every crossing will be eliminated. This investment is fiscally responsible, supports quality of life throughout Helena, and includes a major safety improvement with an accessible pedestrian crossing at Benton Avenue along Centennial Trail and near city parks, the Bill Roberts Golf Course, and the Sunhaven Neighborhood. (The medians at other crossing prevent persons from intentionally driving around the crossing arms.) 

The new crossing at Benton Avenue included a flashing beacon activated by users. 
The reduction in noise for residents near the railroad tracks is dramatic, as shown in the following images from a 2011 feasibility study by Kadrmas, Lee & Jackson linked here.
Current situation not including the substation portions of town impacted by train horns Doppler Effect. Image from this report.  

Noise from train horns in Helena after a quiet zone is implemented. Image from this report.

While I personally have rarely lost sleep due to train horns, I heard from who do Helenans across town and across the political spectrum while I served on the City Commission. Whether or not one falls into this category or not, there is another reason to be proud of your City Commission for advancing this investment. Most of the funds for the safety improvements came from a tax settlement that would have otherwise been directed to fund a new parks building and offices at the Bill Roberts Golf Course to the tune of 3 million dollars according to Helena's Comprehensive Capital Improvement Fund (CCIP). The funds, outlined here, instead went to the purchase of a large existing warehouse that meets the parks department's needs for office and warehouse space at much less cost, is in a better location, and provides additional space for several other departmentsThese funds also provided the cash to match a federal grant to purchase two new fire trucks and started a new program to fund solars panels for Helena residents. 

Going forward, there is more to do to improve the quiet zone. A wayside horn should be installed at National alongside additional safety improvements for pedestrian, both items the Railroad Tax Increment Finance District can explore. The City of Helena and our public works should approach the railroad about finding a more creative solution at the Roberts Crossing where a spur line prevents a more affordable median to prevent folks from driving around the crossing arms. A removable median for the spur and/or relocating the entrance to the yard might be a lower cost option than a direction horn. 

Thanks to the actions by a majority of your city commissioners, many Helena residents will soon sleep better and families can now safely cross Benton Avenue near the tracks.  $1.89 million dollars that could have gone to just one new building instead was leveraged for safety improvements near rail crossings, new firetrucks, and smart use of an existing warehouse costing 40% less than a new building and serving many city departments.  

Thank you to all the commissioners who have supported this endeavor, city staff that implemented the project, and the engineers and contractors who did such a nice job, especially with the new crossing at Benton! 


Matt E

Matthew Elsaesser

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Matt,
    I am sleeping much better now and even more so this summer when the windows are open.
    You're a ROCKSTAR for seeing this through!
    Greg Painter