SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — A decision may come as soon as next month on whether South Dakota will proceed with setting up so-called “quiet zones” at certain railroad crossings in the state. Officials with Sioux Falls and Rapid City met Wednesday with the South Dakota State Railroad Board in Pierre to discuss plans of setting up these zones to cut down on the noise from train whistles coming through densely-populated areas.
The City of Sioux Falls is looking at setting up quiet zones along Weber Avenue, at the Sixth Street and Eighth Street intersections of downtown. The plan is to make improvements to the railroad crossings so train engineers won’t have to blow their whistles as often, if at all.
The sound of train whistles has become the unavoidable white noise for people living in downtown Sioux Falls.
“Before moving there, I didn’t realize how many trains went through. But now that I live there, you notice them a lot more and they all throughout the whole day,” Meghan Bornhoft said.
Meghan Bornhoft lives and works downtown. She says those whistles can blow for minutes at a time as the trains chug through her neighborhood.
“So they start honking their horns 50 yards down from this intersection here on Eighth Street. It’s like a few little honks and then when they go through, it’s like one really long honk,” Bornhoft said.
Sioux Falls hopes to reduce the number of times those train whistles wail by making upgrades to downtown railroad crossings, including crossbars, lighting and more advanced warning signs. The quiet zone would also include a raised median to prevent drivers and pedestrians from trying to beat the approaching train.
“Raised barriers in the center of the street so when the arms of the railroad come down, and combined with the cement barriers at the intersection, cars can’t go left of center, can’t maneuver around the barriers and race trains,” Sioux Falls Chamber of Commerce President & CEO Jeff Griffin said.
But a spokesperson with the railroad industry urged the state railroad board to proceed with caution about quiet zones, saying that blowing a train whistle is always safer than not blowing one, especially when drivers aren’t paying attention. But supporters of these quiet zones say enhancements made to railroad crossings will keep everyone safe.
“They wouldn’t be going in place across the country if they weren’t proven to be safe, similarly to roundabouts, it’s a new thing, but they are proven safe,” Griffin said.
Supporters say the need for quiet zones will only increase in the future, with so much new development, both commercial and residential, taking place downtown.
The South Dakota State Railroad Board says around $13-million is available for quiet zone construction in the state.
Griffin says it would cost about $1-million for each railroad crossing. He hopes construction can begin within a year-and-a-half, once funding is secured.