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  • 21 Nov 2014

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Quiet zones ready to sound off

Milwaukie officials are excited to be approaching the completion of a longtime city goal: quieting all those freight-train horns coming through the city on both Union Pacific lines.

UP’s main line heads east past Highway 224 and along Railroad Avenue toward Oregon City, while its southbound Tillamook Branch line skirts closer to downtown along 17th Avenue.

The Portland-to-Milwaukie light-rail project is building quiet zone-ready crossings on the Tillamook Branch to end the requirement that trains sound their horns when traveling through Milwaukie.

On Aug. 20, City Council is expected to award the $157,000 contract for construction of the safety arms at the 37th Avenue and Oak Street main-line crossing that will allow the city to enact its quiet-zone designation to quiet the rest of UP’s train horns. Construction will require completely closing Railroad Avenue between 37th Avenue and Adams Street in September and October, with the exact schedule still to be determined with a contractor. Aside from this closure, all roadways (both at Oak Street and 37th Avenue) will remain open with one lane of traffic and the use of flaggers.

To make a quiet zone possible, a railroad intersection has to be completely blocked to traffic, which requires expensive upgrades to the typical “Z gates” that only block traffic going in the correct direction. Since drivers can swerve around the Z, trains are required to sound at high decibels when passing through such intersections. TriMet is spending about $1 million to implement downtown quiet zones as part its $1.49 billion light-rail extension.

Work at these UP crossings includes adding traffic islands and raised curbs that create barriers in order to prevent vehicles from crossing over the center lane to avoid the railroad crossing arms.

City spokesman Grady Wheeler said the quiet zone is hoped to be in place by the end of the year, when trains on the UP line would begin to sound their horns only in cases of emergency.

“The city has constructed the required improvements at two other UP crossings in town to allow the quiet zone to be enacted,” Wheeler said.