Gabriel Nelson of Snyder &amp; Associates presents information on possible train-horn-noise reduction measures for Jefferson during a public meeting Tueday night at city hall there.<span style="font-size: xx-small;"><em>&nbsp; Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns</em></span>
Gabriel Nelson of Snyder & Associates presents information on possible train-horn-noise reduction measures for Jefferson during a public meeting Tueday night at city hall there.  Daily Times Herald photo by Douglas Burns
Wednesday, October 17, 2012

JEFFERSON — The City of Jefferson is considering a raft of measures to potentially eliminate or reduce train-horn noise on the two Union Pacific Railroad lines cutting through the center of the Greene County seat.

The impetus for the earnest discussion, with an eye toward implementation in 2013, is the looming completion of the $9.1 million Iowa Highway 4 overpass in Jefferson. The community is scheduled to celebrate its opening on Saturday, Nov. 3, and expects traffic at other crossings to diminish as motorists are drawn to the overpass and no train-passing delays.

“I want as much input from the people of Jefferson as we can get,” said Mayor Craig Berry.

In Carroll, Mayor Adam Schweers has made potential train-horn noise reduction a priority. Carroll Council members also deemed the issue top tier at an Aug. 25 goal-setting session. Carroll City Manager Gerald Clausen attended the Jefferson meeting. Carroll is in the early stages of consideration.

About two dozen people attended a public hearing on the matter Tuesday at Jefferson’s city hall. Opinion varied widely. Several business owners expressed concern that closing crossings would negatively affect customer traffic. But some homeowners said they are tired of the horns and spy an opportunity to boost property values with a quieter atmosphere. Still other residents said they were so accustomed to the trains and the attendant noise that it amounted to a non-issue.

Gabriel Nelson, an engineer with Snyder & Associates of Ankeny, presented a range of options for dealing with train-horn noise. One possibility would be to close the crossings at Pinet Street, Maple Street and Wilson Street, and improve the safeguards at Grimmell Road and Cedar Street with raised medians. Wayside horns, directional devices that send sound precisely down the roadway at traffic, could be installed as well.

As the city is engaged in initial public input there were no firm plans or dollar costs presented Tuesday. The city council and mayor will have the ultimate say once a final plan is presented. Nelson suggested the city could bid for the project as early as next year.

Dean McAtee, the longtime owner of McAtee Tire Service, 412 W. McKinley St., said train-horn noise is part of life in Jefferson.

“We’ve been listening to it 46 years,” he said.

McAtee and his family are concerned that trucks they service will be inconvenienced by crossing closings and may not stop in Jefferson, opting to take their business to other communities down the road should access be limited.

“I’m not making any threats,” McAtee said. “I just don’t know what would happen.”

Other business owners echoed his concerns. Residents also offered input.

Mary Jo Murphy, who lives at the intersection of Wilson Street and Adams Street, said residential concerns need to be factored into a council decision.

“You literally wake up seven or eight times (a night) to the horns,” Murphy said.

She added, “I have the belltower going all day and then the trains.”

Vern Foje, 108. S. Oak St., took a different approach.

“I hear the trains at night, but that’s all right,” he said. “If you can’t sleep, just count them.”

Many in attendance filled out questionnaires about the train-horn noise situation. Those forms for public input are available at city hall.

Nelson said there are about 60 to 70 trains running through Jefferson daily. That number is expected to increase, he said, noting that the overpass was constructed to accommodate a third Union Pacific line. The UP has not announced an imminent addition of that line.

City officials will have to deal with potential liability issues should they seek to reduce horn noise. As it stands, the Union Pacific is fully responsible for the safety of the crossings, Nelson said.