A yearslong effort to create a railway quiet zone that would spare downtown residents from being awakened by blaring train horns at 2 a.m. is gaining momentum with a public-private funding proposal set to be submitted next month to the Oklahoma City Council.
The quiet zone, if funded, would block off some scarcely traveled crossings and enhance crossing signals and gates at intersections including NW 10 and NW 13. That would allow train engineers to pass through the crossings without sounding a locomotive's horn.
Prior talks to combine funding for a quiet zone with tax increment financing for a $36 million apartment complex at NW 11 and Broadway collapsed in 2011 when the developer, Houston-based Bomasada Group, and the city failed to agree on terms.
Brent Bryant, Oklahoma City's economic development manager, said Monday his office has been working with public works engineers and The Alliance for Economic Development of Oklahoma City to detail likely costs of the project and possible funding scenarios.
The current estimate, which is subject to change, is $3.9 million.
Funding proposal has gap
Cathy O'Connor, president of the Alliance, is hoping to present the city council a commitment of $500,000 to be paid by developers and property owners in nearby MidTown and Automobile Alley, and a proposed $2 million from the downtown Tax Increment Finance district.
“The question is how do we close the $1.4 million gap?” O'Connor said. “There has been information presented that a temporary solution might reduce the cost by $900,000. We could do that with barriers on closed streets instead of building cul-de-sacs.”
The temporary solution, O'Connor said, still would require a future funding plan — one that might include placement on a later bond issue to be submitted to voters.
“Future development in the area could make these street closings permanent or not necessary,” she added.
Similar quiet zones have been established in recent years in Norman and Tulsa. A growing downtown population has long complained about the train noise, and some housing developers say they've lost tenants over what is seen as a nuisance.
Development along Automobile Alley, meanwhile, has continued with some attempts to renovate old warehouses and buildings next to the tracks that run north and south near Deep Deuce, Bricktown and Automobile Alley and the Central Business District. The crossings exist between NW 7 and NW 16.
“We're hearing this is a priority from residents, property owners and developers,” O'Connor said. “Development in the area in the past was very dense and industrial. But as development of mixed uses has taken place in Deep Deuce, Automobile Alley and MidTown, this doesn't work anymore.”
Mickey Clagg, chairman of the Automobile Alley Association, said the quiet zone should benefit residents and businesses as far north as the Crown Heights neighborhood and as far south as Capitol Hill.
“This is not just for the narrow Automobile Alley strip,” Clagg said. “Heritage Hills will benefit, and they've contributed money to the effort. And by improving these intersections, understand that the trains sound their horns a mile before a crossing. So this will affect noise up to NW 36.”
Clagg added the BNSF Railroad also is looking at closing an intersection at SE 23, which will eliminate the noise further south.
“This is such an issue for so many people,” Clagg said. “The noise pollution is deafening. It even interrupts weddings, and we had churches contributing to this as well. It all comes down to quality of life.”