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Quiet Zone plans keep chugging along

Perham city staff will be running some numbers over the next few weeks to determine what a Quiet Zone might cost the town’s taxpayers.

Once those estimates are in hand, city leaders plan to take a hard look at their options.

At a city council meeting Tuesday, councilors said they would be in favor of implementing a Quiet Zone, as long as it’s what the majority of residents want. Based on discussion at the meeting, it’s likely the idea will be brought to a vote through a future referendum – especially if the Quiet Zone comes with a hefty price tag, which it just might.

Three Quiet Zone implementation options presented to city leaders last month by SRF Consulting Group ranged in cost from a low of $640,000 to a high of $2.5 million.

The most expensive option is also considered to be the safest, calling for substantial safety improvements at all seven public railroad crossings included in the Quiet Zone study.  Lower-cost options are either more risky, or require the closure of the Second Avenue NE crossing in downtown Perham.

Most city councilors said Tuesday that they were not in favor of closing the Second

 Avenue crossing. They also agreed that the $2.5 million option seemed too expensive, though its high safety level is preferred.

“I think the $2.5 million option would be the right way to do it, if we’re going to do it,” said Mayor Tim Meehl. “But is it worth $2.5 million? I don’t know.”

“I can’t envision spending that kind of money,” said councilor James Johnson. “But if we’re going to do it, I think that’s probably what it’d take.”

An alternative solution would be to come up with a “hybrid” option, which would blend SRF’s recommendations in a way that would, ideally, maintain a high safety level at the crossings while lowering the cost.

“I would be in favor of a hybrid,” said councilor Eric Spencer. ‘I think there’s a way we can work with the crossings and make it happen.”

City Manager Kelcey Klemm offered to look into one particular hybrid scenario, which would shave about $600,000 worth of safety upgrades off the $2.5 million option by removing the need for special safety gates at the Sixth Avenue SW crossing. That would bring the cost down to about $1.9 million.

Klemm will bring estimated tax figures to the December city council meeting showing what a roughly $2 million Quiet Zone project would cost taxpayers.

“I think some estimates on what it might cost will really help us make some decisions,” said Johnson.

Once councilors hash out the options and decide on one they feel is both cost effective and safe, they will file a notice of intent to establish a Quiet Zone with the Federal Railroad Administration. There’s no deadline to file this, Klemm said, but it’s best to do it soon, as any accidents at crossings could affect Quiet Zone cost estimates and delay the process.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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