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East Grand Forks considers quiet zone near Sacred Heart School

Photo by Brandi Jewett/Grand Forks Herald

There’s not much staff and students can do about the train whistles blaring daily outside Sacred Heart School, said high school principal Blake Karas.

“You basically just can’t even hear anything,” Karas said. “You have to pause and wait for the bell to be done, and then you can go back to class.”

Preschool and day care teachers have had to schedule children’s nap times around the trains, Karas went on, and students of all learning levels tend to have a hard time focusing on lectures and their schoolwork.

Sacred Heart, serving about 460 kids from preschool to 12th grade, has spent the last several years asking the city to do something about noisy train crossings in the area.

On Tuesday, council members heard what it would cost to establish a quiet zone near Sacred Heart, either by closing the crossings or adding warning equipment and gates that will notify pedestrians and drivers of an oncoming train.

A quiet zone must be at least half a mile long, and its public crossings must have flashing lights, gates, and other warning devices to replace a train whistle, according to City Engineer Steve Emery.

If the city chooses to proceed with establishing a quiet zone, it first has to provide a letter of intent to BNSF Railway and the Minnesota Department of Transportation.

The Federal Railroad Administration will then have to ensure crossings in the proposed quiet zone aren’t any more dangerous than the national average. After all of that, the city will be able to create plans and cost estimates.

The city met last May with transportation and train officials and Sacred Heart, Emery said, to discuss what it would cost to change or close crossings at Third Street Northwest, Central Avenue and Second Avenue Northeast.

BNSF recommended the city either close its Third Street crossing or install a gate system.

The company offered to help the city pay if it chooses to close that crossing.

If the city were to install gate systems at the Third Street crossing, the cost could range from $908,700 to $1.4 million, depending on the type of gate.

Agencies at the May meeting recommended the city pay for more signs, pedestrian improvements and potentially even a fence at the Central Avenue crossing, all of which Emery estimated could cost about $121,850.

The Second Avenue crossing would need to be replaced because of how close it is to traffic lights on Business Highway 2. Recommended improvements at Second Avenue could cost about $567,700, according to estimates from Emery.

Other business
  • In light of the EPA phasing out R-22, a refrigerant the city uses to maintain ice in its public arenas, Parks and Recreation staff recommended the council consider alternative maintenance systems. That discussion triggered a larger talk on revamping the city’s VFW Arena to offer more activities than just those on ice, and the council has directed Parks and Recreation Superintendent Reid Huttunen to study the effort further.
  • The council also considered some changes to the LaFave Park area near downtown. Huttunen proposed the city hire someone to design a boat ramp there, so officials can obtain an engineer’s estimate and approach state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources for potential funding sources.
Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

(701) 780-1102
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