2011 brings renewed hope of Winter Park Quiet Zones
Winter Park, CO Colorado
For at least a decade, Winter Park’s town council has been focused on ways to quiet the horns that blare as Union Pacific’s coal trains and Amtrak’s California Zephyr rumble through its residential neighborhoods.
In 2011, creating “Quiet Zones” at Winter Park’s two railroad crossings still tops the council’s list of priorities, and town manager Drew Nelson is feeling optimistic that work could begin by year’s end on at least one crossing .
“I feel positive about our application but a lot of details have to be worked out,” Nelson said. “It’s a lot of money to spend right now, but council feels like it’s a necessity. It’s about quality of life, and that’s what people are here for.”
The two railroad crossings – one at Vasquez Road and the other at King’s Crossing – would need to be upgraded so that trains could safely pass through the village – horn free – without worrying about a car trying to jump the tracks at the last second.
The proposed upgrades include 100-foot, raised medians, automatic gates with lights that stretch across the road and, most importantly, upgrades to the electronic equipment at the crossings for round-the-clock warning devices.
Creating the 2.74-mile quite zone will cost the town an estimated $450,000 for the electronics alone, not including the upgrades to the road, installation of medians and the cost of the mechanical gates.
The town will be responsible for funding the project entirely on its own (although Nelson intends to apply for grants to help offset the cost). Union Pacific also will require the town to pay an annual $20,000 fee to maintain the circuitry.
The town has gained a tentative nod from the Federal Railway Administration and has received initial designs and cost estimates from Union Pacific along with that company’s blessing to proceed with the application process.
The application now rests with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, which will review the plans along with any public comments it receives.
The town filed its application on Dec. 10 and the public has 30 days (until Jan. 10) to oppose or support the application.
The PUC will render its decision with 210 days.
Cornerstone Holdings President Clark Lipscomb said he, for one, plans to object to the application.
“Everyone would love to have fewer whistles,” Lipscomb said, noting that he has no problem with the quiet zone at Vasquez.
But, he added, “I have a contractual agreement with the Town of Winter Park to work toward getting the underpass built (at Leland Creek).” An underpass at Leland would make Kings Crossing obsolete.
Lipscomb expressed further concern that the proposed plan for a quiet zone at King’s Crossing would impede access to the west side of his property. Due to the medians, trucks coming out of his property would not be able to turn left.
“All my construction traffic is going to have to come though the neighborhoods of Winter Park,” he said.
Further, he added, “the quiet zone doesn’t resolve the safety and emergency concerns.” Citizens have long worried about how the railroad crossings can hold up emergency vehicles, wasting valuable time in the event of a fire or heart attack.
“It’s inevitable that an underpass will be built at Leland Creek,” Lipscomb said. “It’s a waste of money to put in something you know is going to be torn out.”
Lipscomb said that after trying for five years to get the underpass approved with the towns of Winter Park and Fraser, the PUC threw out the initial underpass application for lack of progress.
Now, he is pursuing a new application on his own, and he said he’s made more progress in six months than the previous effort made in five years. He anticipates having final construction plans approved in 2012.
Lipscomb estimates that the underpass will cost around $9 million, adding that the Town of Winter Park is contractually obligated to pay for a significant portion of the project. (Fraser’s end of the deal related primarily to maintenance.)
While Town Manager Jeff Durbin said Fraser will continue to support the underpass, Nelson said Winter Park Town Council has switched gears at this point and is focusing entirely on the Quiet Zones.
“We jointly pursued the underpass with Cornerstone for more than five years, and that first attempt was ultimately unsuccessful due to a myriad of factors,” Nelson said. “Whether or not the underpass gets constructed is entirely in Cornerstone’s court.”
If the PUC approves the town’s Quiet Zone application, Winter Park could begin installing the improvements in the railroad right of way immediately.
Nelson said the town will focus first on installing infrastructure at the Vasquez crossing because “there’s no potential for an underpass there.”
After the improvements are installed, the town would send a letter to the Federal Railroad Administration, which would then send a statement to the railroads operating on the line that a quiet zone was approved, removing the federal requirement for train horns at the at-grade intersections.
– Reid Armstrong can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19610 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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