Rohnert Park City Council stopped short of approving “quiet zones” at all three SMART train crossings Tuesday night, with the Golf Course Drive crossing proving to be the sticking point for a split council vote. The Council did vote to continue the process, however, of establishing quiet zones and their required safety measures at the Expressway and Southwest Boulevard crossings.
“I’m very concerned about Golf Course Drive,” said Councilmember Gina Belforte.
The original motion lost, 2-2-1, with Mayor Mackenzie and Vice-Mayor Stafford in favor, Councilmembers Callinan and Belforte against, and Councilmember Ahanotu absent.
The Council approved an amended resolution, directing staff to return with options to mitigate Council’s concerns about the safety issues posed by a quiet zone at the Golf Course Drive crossing. The city will go ahead with the safety measure for the other two crossings, which the Council had no issues with.
“My only concern is that (Golf Course Drive) is such a dangerous intersection already,” said Councilmember Joe Callinan.
“The bars are going to come down, people will still know the trains are coming,” said Vice-Mayor Pam Stafford. “I just don’t want there to be more of a delay. I just hate to see all the work the staff has done on it and for all the people in the community to be disappointed.”
Mayor Jake Mackenzie said a waiver may be possible to exclude Golf Course Drive from the regional quiet zone agreement Rohnert Park has joined with the County and other cities. “Golf Course Drive crossing is recognized as the most problematic crossing in the SMART system. The question is can there be a waiver that requires the operators to sound their horn going through Golf Course Drive?”
If a waiver is not possible, it may delay, complicate or delay the implementation of quiet zones in Rohnert Park due to the joint agreement with the County.
Mackenzie is well versed in this issue. Earlier this year, he became the first Sonoma County representative since 1983 to chair the California Metropolitan Transportation Commission. He also serves on the boards of SMART and the Sonoma County Transportation Authority/Regional Climate Protection Authority.
Federal law stipulates a train must begin blowing its horn 15-20 seconds before reaching a crossing and in specific pattern – two long horn blows, one short horn blow and one long whistle blast. That process must be repeated until the train reaches the crossing. The horn must also be blown if the engineer sees anyone on the tracks.
All jurisdictions along the SMART corridor have started the process of establishing quiet zones.
Quiet zones would limit — but not eliminate — the sounding of train horns. “Quiet zone is maybe not the best thing,” suggested City Manager Darrin Jenkins. “Quieter zone, maybe.”
Mackenzie added, “I don’t want people to be under any misapprehension... this does not mean that there will be no horns being heard in our neighborhoods, but they will not be at every crossing.”
Callinan said he is sympathetic to the issues of the noise caused by the trains — his daughter even sold her house in B Section because the train horn was “crazy loud,” he said. But he had concerns about the language of the quiet zone agreement with SMART, which potentially leaves the city open to liability in the event of an accident in one of the city’s established quiet zones.
So far, the city has identified a plan and cost for extra safety measures needed to accommodate these zones. SMART has agreed to pay for part of these safety measures, which include signs and improvements to concrete medians on Expressway and Southwest Boulevard.
Total cost is estimated at $256,500 for the quiet zone safety requirements and additional accessibility requirements. Funding comes from gas taxes, SMART and a community development grant.
There are 14 public crossings in Sonoma County. The five crossings creating a noise problem in Rohnert Park and Cotati are at Golf Course Drive, Expressway, Southwest Boulevard, East Cotati Avenue and East Railroad Drive. Trains are expected to run through Rohnert Park between 5:30 a.m. and 10 p.m.