Oklahoma City civic and business leaders were recently hit with a blunt reminder of the need for a railway quiet zone when train horns interrupted a presentation by top executives with General Electric at the groundbreaking for the firm’s new global oil and gas research center.
The horns, which sound off every time a BNSF train travels through downtown, have long been an annoyance to the area’s growing residential population that is awakened by the noise at 3 a.m., and considered a hindrance to development along Automobile Alley.
A new report shows an end to the noise is finally near, with construction of the quiet zone to begin in August 2015.
Completion is set for November 2015. On that date, the train horns will go silent from Wilshire Boulevard to SE 23 in Capitol Hill.
“It’s a date that we can see,” said Jane Jenkins, president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. “That really makes it seem like a reality. This is something we’ve been working toward the last five or six years. So to have a target date to have this implemented is good.”
Public Works Director Eric Wenger said the BNSF Railway is supportive of completing the projects, and the company has agreed to oversee track improvements at a discounted rate to the city.
“To do the quiet zone, we have to protect those intersections,” Wenger said. “One way is through closure. Another is barriers added to stop cars from weaving through the crossing. And the final one is what’s called quad gates, which is a pair of gates that come down and do not allow a car to go through.”
For years the city struggled to fund a quiet zone.
A $32 million housing project planned for NW 11 and Broadway was scrapped by developers who cited the standstill for the project’s demise.
Development along the tracks gained momentum, however, when the city council last summer approved a $3.9 million budget for the project with $640,000 contributed by downtown business and property owners.
“All of the downtown districts support making this happen,” Jenkins said.
“The private sector knew they had to step up to make this a reality. And they did.”
The preliminary design report by Cardinal Engineering presented Tuesday shows NW 11 will remain permanently closed with other quiet zone closings to take place at NW 12, NW 14, Park Place and SE 23. Medians and curbs will be added at NW 7, NW 8, NW 9, NW 10 and NW 16, with further modifications to be made at NW 13.