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Railroad quiet zone study bumped off 2012 budget

Sat., Feb. 4, 2012

Gateway sign, storm swale projects will receive consideration

In a split decision Tuesday, the Spokane Valley City Council decided not to consider funding a railroad quiet zone study in 2012. The discussion began in 2010 when a group of residents presented the council with a petition asking that trains not be allowed to blow their whistles at the Park and Vista roads crossings of the Union Pacific line north of Trent Avenue.

The estimated cost of the study is $83,000, while the construction of required signals and barriers is estimated to take several years and cost between $390,000 and $825,000 to complete.

Councilman Chuck Hafner said the city should use the $83,000 for other needs. “I don’t feel this is the appropriate time to address that,” he said.

The process will take a long time, but it should be begun, said Councilman Dean Grafos. “All we’re talking about is the consultant to get this started,” he said.

Mayor Tom Towey said the city should help neighborhoods that request it, but there are concerns about how to pay for the construction. “We have not identified the revenue stream for the project itself,” he said. “If we had to do it right now, it would have to come out of our reserves. Does this rise to the level of an emergency?”

Towey also said Millwood won’t participate in the quiet zone project and it has crossings near Park and Vista. Whistles at those crossings will still be heard by residents who requested the quiet zones. “Without their help I don’t think the expectation of the neighbors is going to be met,” he said.

“We’re talking about looking at our options,” Grafos said. “We’re not here just to pile up our reserves and not do anything for our citizens.”

Hafner, Towey and council members Gary Schimmels and Ben Wick voted to remove the quiet zone study from the proposed list of 2012 special projects. Council members Grafos, Arne Woodard and Brenda Grassel voted against removing it.

The council did agree to continue considering two other projects in 2012: the creation of a gateway sign at Appleway and Thierman and a storm swale project on Sprague Avenue between Park Road and Thierman Road. The city applied for a grant for the $630,000 swale project and was notified that it is No. 28 on the approved project list, said Public Works Director Neil Kersten. But the state is considering cutting the amount of grant money available, which means the city could lose the grant, he said. If the grant doesn’t come through the city could use aquifer protection money for the project. “It could get funded this cycle,” he said. “We can just see where it goes.”

Grafos recommended adding the storm swale project to the budget and adjusting it later if the grant is received. “That way there would not be a delay,” he said. “That’s basically the gateway to our city. I want to allocate those funds and move forward.”

A public hearing on the proposed additions to the 2012 budget is tentatively scheduled for the Feb. 14 council meeting.

In other business, the council discussed the reconstruction project on Sprague Avenue between Evergreen and Sullivan roads scheduled for this summer. City staff presented a four-phase construction plan that will avoid closing the entire stretch of road at once. The contractor will be required to leave at least one driveway open to each business at all times, said senior capital projects engineer Steve Worley. “This is the approach that works best,” he said. “During the whole time, everybody has access to all the businesses.”

The plan is to shrink traffic down to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane. Grafos said he was concerned about drivers not being able to reach businesses on the north side of the street while that side is under construction. Worley said left turns will be possible and driveways will only be closed for short 20- or 30-minute periods while the contractor is working in front of the driveway. City staff has already identified which driveways must remain open, he said. “We’re going to be very specific in our specs,” he said.

Staff has hosted one public meeting to get input from business owners and residents and another meeting is set for Feb. 15. Work should begin in mid-May and last about 12 weeks. Worley suggested offering a $5,000 a day incentive for up to 10 days if the contractor is able to finish early, and council members agreed to allow it.

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