Horning in on peace and quietBruce Coltvet hears it 20, sometimes 30 times a day from his southern Cottage Grove home: the ear-splitting blast of a train horn is all-too-familiar to the 69-year-old and more than 50 neighbors in the city’s otherwise quiet River Acres neighborhood.
By: Jon Avise, South Washington County Bulletin
Bruce Coltvet hears it 20, sometimes 30 times a day from his southern Cottage Grove home: the ear-splitting blast of a train horn is all-too-familiar to the 69-year-old and more than 50 neighbors in the city’s otherwise quiet River Acres neighborhood.
It’s bad enough that Coltvet led an effort petitioning the city to move forward on a construction project that would enable federal rail officials to classify the nearby railroad crossing a train horn quiet zone.
It’s a designation that prevents train engineers from sounding the locomotive’s warning horn as it comes to a residential track crossing. And it’s a designation that would lend a little peace and quiet to Coltvet and his whistle-weary neighbors.
He’s lived in his home, tucked away in the woods near the Mississippi River, since 1993. That’s long enough to have memorized the piercing pattern of the ever-present locomotive horn.
“They come 24-7,” Coltvet said. “They always blast that horn, always two longs, a short and a long.”
An average of 49 trains per day pass the River Acres crossing, according to figures provided by the city. Each time, they blow their whistle that is between 96 and 110 decibels.
That’s about as loud as standing one meter away from a running chainsaw.
It wasn’t always this way: In 2005, city officials agreed to file paperwork with the Federal Railroad Administration to establish a train horn quiet zone.
Federal Railroad officials approved the quiet zone, granting River Acres a sweet respite from the noise.
But, less than two years later the administration changed the rules, requiring cities to construct medians — meant to prevent motorists from driving around lowered arms and flashing lights already in place at the 115th Street/River Acres Road crossing — to continue with quiet zone classification.
Since city officials had agreed to pursue the quiet zone with the stipulation that it not construct anything, in 2007 the designation expired. And for River Acres residents, the tiresome train horns resumed.
“We’re within 300 feet of the tracks … it’s quite annoying,” said River Acres homeowner Michael Butchko. “They lay on (the horn) pretty good.”
Planned crossing improvement nixed
The return of the horn-free zone seemed imminent last year — a planned reconstruction of River Acres Road and 113th Street had been planned for 2009. Included in that project, said city administrator Ryan Schroeder, was construction of the rail-crossing median; Cottage Grove officials had even notified the Federal Railroad Administration of the city’s intent to reestablish the quiet zone.
But that plan fell through — a state aid cut last year with further reductions likely on the way meant city officials were forced to indefinitely delay planned improvement projects, the crossing medians included.
The move has left River Acres residents waiting with fingers crossed — or plugged in their ears — hoping for a respite from the rail noise.
The River Acres project is delayed “sort of indefinitely,” Schroeder said. “We don’t have an expected construction date at this time.” Cottage Grove officials accepted the petition that Coltvet had signed by 41 neighborhood residents at a city council meeting earlier this month.
For now, though, the city won’t do anything, Schroeder said, while Cottage Grove waits to see how deep Gov. Tim Pawlenty cuts funding to local governments.
“Minimally, we’re waiting for that,” he said. “Beyond that we probably need to get a little further through the budget process to see if we can actually fund (the improvements).”
Cottage Grove officials estimate construction of the medians on both sides of the River Acres rail crossing would cost $45,000. The city would pay 55 percent of that cost; homeowners would be on the hook for the remaining 45 percent — or roughly $20,000 — of the project.
That would come out to around $400 per household in the area. It’s a price Coltvet is more than willing to pay.
“Newport doesn’t have horns anymore. St. Paul Park has a quiet zone,” he said. “It’s Cottage Grove’s turn.”