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City Hall: Engineers studying how much it would cost to silence a train
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City Hall: Engineers studying how much it would cost to silence a train

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Nebraska Hwy. 2 Railroad Tracks

Vehicles cross the railroad tracks on 56th Street at Old Cheney Road.

Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

The trains keep on rumbling (less than one a day in May) and the consultants keep on studying (and they know most everything but the price tag).

That’s essentially the status of an analysis of railroad crossings along Nebraska 2 in south Lincoln — a concern for drivers but more so residents who must deal with trains (and their horns) for the first time in 17 years.

The Railroad Transportation Safety District — a body made up of city council and county board members — authorized hiring an engineering firm to analyze what it would take to create so-called quiet zones on tracks now used by BNSF coal trains running to and from Nebraska City.

After RTSD board members' phones and emails were inundated with complaints from residents who live near the tracks, they decided the $90,000 needed for an engineering company to study the crossings was worth it.

The firm has looked at all 14 crossings from Calvert Street in southwest Lincoln to Yankee Hill Road in southeast Lincoln and recently updated the RTSD board on what the options are for designating quiet zones — where trains don’t need to blow their horns.

Typically, crossings must have gates, lights and bells and what’s called “constant warning circuitry” along the tracks — technology that tells the lights when to start flashing and the gates to come down based on the train’s speed.

The crossings must also have medians, a deterrent to motorists tempted to try to go around the gates and beat the train, said Roger Figard, executive director of the RTSD. In lieu of that, crossings can have gates extending across all traffic lanes in both directions or “wayside horns,” which direct the sound at traffic and greatly diminishes the noise to neighboring homes.

Mark Meisinger, with Felsburg Holt & Ullevig, the engineering firm hired to analyze the crossings, told the RTSD board this week that two of the 14 crossings are private, so the quiet zone measures aren’t necessary.

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Of the other 12, six already have medians and two have the “constant warning circuitry” installed. Three others have motion sensors to tell the gates when to come down. Several of the intersections could need more than one “wayside horn.”

One of the most difficult and expensive crossings to bring up to quiet-zone standards will be 70th Street between Yankee Hill and Pine Lake roads because the street will likely need to be widened or grading work done on the ditches.

The big, looming question is cost.

Before the consultants can estimate that, a diagnostic team has to sign off on the changes. That's in the works.  

But it won't be cheap.

The RTSD did a similar study of tracks in southwest Lincoln that hasn’t been acted on, Figard said. Estimates for installing quiet zones on that stretch of tracks ranged from $3 million to $5 million and involved six or seven crossings.

There are six other quiet zones in Lancaster County. At two of the quiet zones — along Cornhusker Highway and in Waverly — 50 to 70 trains rumble down the tracks each day. Some of the others have 20 to 30 trains a day. All have fewer crossings.

Figard said in May, a total of 27 trains traversed the tracks along Nebraska 2.

Once the consultants come up with a cost estimate, the RTSD will present the results to the public and the RTSD board will have to decide how to move forward.

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The city as farmers

A little local government trivia: The city of Lincoln owns about 2,000 acres of farmland.

City officials recently announced they wanted to use about 10 acres of land in the West Haymarket adjacent to the People’s City Mission for an urban agriculture project.

That’s new, but the city’s farming chops aren’t: For years it has owned farmland, most of it outside the city limits.

A small portion is land was donated to the Parks and Recreation Department for future parks, but most is near the city's wellfields near Ashland, the water resource recovery (or wastewater) facilities and the landfills.

The city hires a company to manage the land: finding tenants to farm the ground and setting up the arrangements by which they do so. The current contract is ending, so the city recently released a request for proposals for a management company.

Although the city has always followed sustainable practices in farming, officials hope to include additional regenerative practices to maintain soil health, including measures set out in the mayor’s climate action plan, said Frank Uhlarik, the city’s sustainability and compliance administrator.

Steve Crisler, superintendent of the city’s water resource recovery facilities who has overseen the program for years, said some of the land has been owned for more than 40 years.

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Different land has different needs, Crisler said, and the management company looks for the best tenant based on those needs. For instance, there are certain environmental concerns on land that creates a buffer around the wellfields. Biosolids from the wastewater treatment facilities are applied to some of the land as fertilizer.

Crops — typically corn and soybeans — are grown on about half the land; the other is put up as hay.

The arrangements differ depending on the uses, Crisler said. In some cases the tenant pays rent for the land and takes the crop revenue, in others the city pays the tenant and takes the crop revenue.

Over the past five years, the city has netted $2.4 million in revenue from the land, Uhlarik said.

The money is distributed to the departments that purchased it.

Lincoln 12-year-old one of first to get vaccine for his age group; trials going on for younger kids

Vaccines made easier

Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Director Pat Lopez had some good news for parents she shared with city council members Monday: The department has begun providing vaccines to pediatric clinics.

That means when kids come in for a checkup, and high schoolers come in for physicals required to play sports, they can now be vaccinated — as long as they’re at least 12 years old and have a parent's permission.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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