City of Kilgore employees and downtown stakeholders have heard the question on repeat with increasing frequency:
“When’s that quiet zone coming?”
In November 2014, Kilgore City Council members approved a funding plan for the necessary safety improvements at three railroad crossings that would permit the creation of a ‘quiet zone’ in downtown Kilgore. The overall strategy – coordinating funding and design with Union Pacific Railroad – also included the removal of one crossing.
Bureaucratic nuances, scheduling conflicts, weather: all delayed the project in turn, including as recently as this summer, when unexpectedly wet weather pushed the project start further and further back.
Three years and many false-starts later, the first phase of actual construction for the project is set for the week of Nov. 20, installing safety equipment and signage that will allow conductors to skip sounding their horns except in emergency situations.
“We now have all our clearances, we believe,” Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck said. “It’s supposed to start the week of Thanksgiving, but it will be a multi-week project,” stretching through a month-and-change.
“We’re hoping to have that completed by the first of the year.”
It will be a major task off City Hall’s list: the quiet zone requires safety equipment improvements at the railroad’s Main Street, Lantrip and Southport Road crossings. The related removal of the Danville Street crossing was already on Union Pacific’s radar – the city’s consent to abandon that crossing netted a $50,000 credit on a project originally estimated at about $125,000 overall.
“That will actually be the last part of the project,” Selleck noted. “Everything else will be improved and re-opened before we move to that.
One challenge with the work relates to traffic feeding over the crossings to Kilgore High School. City officials were reluctant to pursue the project when school was in session – the Thanksgiving break offers a first window (after the summer’s rain pushed the project kick-off past the start of school).
“We have coordinated and talked to the school district about it,” Selleck noted. “They’ve indicated that so long as they’re aware, they can work around some of the construction better than we anticipated.
For anyone that needs to use the crossings while the project’s underway, “They’re just asked to pay attention to traffic control devices and signage so they know what’s going on with traffic patterns and the things we’re changing with each crossing.”
Pursuing the project in-house has caused some delays as well, Selleck allowed, but it’s kept the overall work within the original budget. One bright side of the overall delay is that some of Union Pacific’s regulations have eased since the project was first approved three years ago.
“Union Pacific now allows the use of outside flaggers,” Selleck said, for safety purposes at the project site. The city now can hire its own contractors for the task, “which makes it a bit more flexible in terms of scheduling. You have a lot more window of time to adjust to weather issues, construction and other things along those lines.”
Once construction is completed, conductors will have 12 months to get acclimated to the new crossings before the quiet zone is put into full-effect.