By Robbie Ward/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – A “quiet zone” railroad designation could cost Tupelo taxpayers up to $250,000 for each of the 23 crossings, excluding the most prominent at Crosstown.
With questions lingering about costs and effectiveness, Tupelo City Council members Tuesday continued to collect information before deciding whether to vote on the issue before the current four-year term ends July 1.
Mayor Jack Reed Jr., Jon Milstead with the Community Development Foundation and an engineering and design company representative experienced with creating zones discussed the issue with an inquisitive City Council, which tabled at the last council meeting paying $138,000 for engineering and other technical services related to preparing the city for a quiet zone.
Sharpie Smith, an engineer and principal in the firm Smith Seckman Reid, told council members he couldn’t give an estimate on the total cost of the project that would eliminate loud train whistles except in emergencies. However, he said railroad companies have cited $250,000 as the cost per train crossing at intersections without flashing lights or any other warnings of approaching trains.
“I wouldn’t dispute their numbers,” Smith said.
The project would lead to safety arms and flashing lights at each railroad crossing included in the designation, along with upgrading curbs to prevent vehicles from easily bypassing the safeguards.
With estimates of $4- to $5 million to complete the project, Ward 7 Councilman Willie Jennings said he would use those figures to help determine whether to proceed. He then questioned how the city would pay for the project.
“Bond is really not a four-letter word to me,” Reed said. “I think you have to look at it as a lifetime Tupelo investment.”
Reed has said he didn’t pursue the information related to adding Crosstown to the project because of prohibitive costs, saying it would nearly double the cost of the overall project.
Milstead told council members that establishing a quiet zone between Highway 45 and Crosstown would enhance economic development efforts in the community. He said insiders with proposed commercial and hotel developers have mentioned concerns with the noise, along with those who stay at the Hilton Garden Inn along East Main Street downtown.
“The train noise is a consistent problem for them,” Milstead said.
Along with improving development along railroad areas in the city, Reed said quieting the areas would add to safety and overall quality of life.
The City Council is expected to vote on whether to proceed at a meeting in June.