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Crash puts brakes on city’s Quiet Zone plan

Saturday’s crash at the 6th Avenue NW railroad crossing has put a temporary hold on Perham’s plans for a Quiet Zone.

At a meeting last Monday, city councilors had decided to move forward with the process of establishing a Quiet Zone, agreeing to file a notice of intent with the Federal Railroad Administration.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, however, City Manager Kelcey Klemm said filing that notice, and any other further action in support of the Quiet Zone, “will be put on hold until we have more discussion.”

Though it’s not yet known exactly how the crash will impact the city’s Quiet Zone plan, Klemm said, “We do expect that, as any accident would, it will increase the risk factor for that crossing; we just don’t know by how much, or how it will impact that plan we had selected with our letter of intent.”

The plan he’s referring to is a $1.9 million option that calls for safety improvements at seven downtown area railroad crossings owned by the city, with each crossing improved to widely varying degrees.

The crossings at 1st and 2nd Avenue NE, for example, would each require about $700,000 in upgrades, while the 7th Avenue NE and County Highway 51 crossings would require closer to $50,000.

The plan is a slightly altered – and less expensive – version of a more costly plan previously proposed by SRF Consulting Group of Fargo, N.D.

The city hired SRF about a year ago to determine the feasibility of creating a Quiet Zone in Perham, and has been working with the firm to come up with some specific ideas about how to make that happen.

The consulting group originally came up with three possible scenarios, each one ranging in price and overall safety level. To come up with the fourth and final, $1.9 million option, city councilors took SRF’s safest scenario, which was also the most expensive at more than $2.5 million, and shaved off a good chunk of the cost by significantly reducing safety improvements at one crossing.

Ironically, that crossing happens to be 6th Avenue NW, the same crossing where a train crashed into a semi-truck this past Saturday night.

As Klemm said, that accident will increase the risk factor for that crossing, which could translate into the need for more expensive upgrades at that or other crossings in town, in order to make up for an overall loss in safety value.

Enough remains unknown at this point that, rather than go ahead and file the notice of intent, councilors want to meet with SRF again and review their options.

Filing the notice would have been the most recent in a series of steps to make a Quiet Zone a reality in Perham.

The final step, according to discussion by councilors last week, would be a vote by the people next fall.

“No matter what we do, this is always going to end up in the hands of voters,” said councilor Fred Lemkuhl.

Establishing a Quiet Zone through town would significantly bring down Perham’s railroad crossing risk level by making the crossings safer for drivers and pedestrians. It would also relieve in-town residents, business owners and shoppers from having to endure frequent, loud train whistles.

But it would most likely come with a high price tag. According to tax estimates shared at last week’s meeting, under the $1.9 million option, the owner of a $150,000 home or business in Perham would see his or her annual property taxes increase by about $164 during the 10-year bond pay-off period.

People would also need to get used to some significant changes at a few of the crossings, such as 4-quad gates with vehicle detectors and roadway medians that help control traffic flow.

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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