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For many, the long, clear bellow of a train horn represents adventure, escape, or it provokes sentimental feelings for earlier, simpler times. But to many businesses and homeowners along the railroad tracks in downtown Rapid City, a late-night horn likely provokes much coarser considerations.

On Monday night, the Rapid City Council seemed to have the latter group in mind when it unanimously approved a feasibility study detailing how and what the city could do to create a railroad quiet zone from 11th Street to Maple Street.

Though they've received only a draft report on the city’s options — with possible fixes ranging in cost from $1.7 million to $4.4 million — the council seemed intent on investigating the ideas presented in the 71-page report further. Within the report, potential railroad crossing improvements that would meet minimum Federal Railroad Administration safety requirements for implementing a railroad quiet zone are enumerated.

In a railroad quiet zone, train operators would not operate their horns save for emergency situations like a car or person on or near the tracks as the train approached. Although Aberdeen is considering a railroad quiet zone and zones are already established in Newcastle, Wyo., and Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks, N.D., Rapid City would be the first town or city in South Dakota to implement the policy should it move forward, according to city planner Kip Harrington.

A final report isn’t expected for the next two months, but the options presented in the draft report illustrate that funding may be the biggest challenge facing such a proposal. Neither the South Dakota Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, or the railroad companies operating the rails are expected to contribute funds to the potential project.

Mayor Steve Allender seemed to anticipate such concerns when he sent a memo to the council on June 13 noting that the improvements would likely need to be funded outside of the city’s five-year schedule for infrastructure projects.

“Rapid City could not fund a project such as this without consideration from the Vision Fund,” Allender wrote.

He also noted that the city’s Downtown Master Plan assessment found demand for up to 350 residential units in the downtown area. Reducing noise pollution from the train horns, Allender said, would remove a barrier to development.

Monday night, Alderwoman Amanda Scott and Alderman Steve Laurenti expressed support for the report’s initial ideas but said respect for the Vision Fund and potential citizen-led projects that may apply for Vision Funds meant they'd want the city to go through the normal Vision Fund application process.

Alderman Ritchie Nordstrom said he’d like to see options for extending the quiet zone to East Saint Patrick Street or East Saint Charles Street and added that he’d heard “major dollar amounts” being verbally pledged toward funding the project from area businesses and organizations with a stake in silencing the sirens.

In other action, the council:

  • Approved the second reading of an ordinance to allow e-bikes on city bicycle and pedestrian trail systems. E-bikes, which are growing in popularity locally and nationally, look much like regular bicycles but are equipped with a battery-powered motor for assisted pedaling. Current city law prohibits the use of any motorized vehicle on recreational trails, and e-bikes technically meet the definition of a motorized vehicle. The new ordinance amends city law to allow for the operation of low-speed electric assist bikes on the trails. Federal law defines low-speed electric bicycles as those with a motor of less than 750 watts and a maximum motorized speed of less than 20 mph when on level pavement with a 170-pound rider. Now fully approved, the ordinance will go into effect in mid-July.
  • Heard a presentation by city budget analyst Sean Kurbanov ahead of the 2019 city budget hearings that will begin later this summer. Kurbanov highlighted the city’s priority-based budgeting process, which was implemented city-wide in the 2018 budget process for the first time in Rapid City’s history and uses data and statistical analysis to prioritize city programs and services. Rapid Citians can visit https://openpbbdata.net/RapidCity/ to see a visual presentation of Rapid City’s budget.
  • Approved awarding two bids to Tru-Form Construction, Inc. for two separate projects estimated to cost a total of almost $310,000. The first project, for $102,000, will install Americans with Disabilities-compliant ramps at the intersection of Fifth Street and New York Street as well as installing a pedestrian crossing signal. It is expected to be completed by mid-September. The second project, for $207,000, will repair the water valves below Saint Joseph Street from East Boulevard to Third Street. The road’s faulted and broken concrete pavement will also be improved, as will the road’s joints, with completion pegged for November.
  • Approved awarding a bid to Simon Contractors to rehabilitate the pavement, repair the curb and gutters, install ADA compliant ramps, and extend a sanitary sewer main beneath San Marco Boulevard from South Canyon Drive to West Chicago Street. The project is estimated to cost $296,000 and will be completed by the end of October.
  • Approved a rezone request for a vacant 2.5-acre lot northwest of the corner of Lacrosse Street and E. Omaha Street as Mollers Limited Partnership looks to build an apartment complex with three structures and 36 total units.

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Contact Samuel Blackstone at samuel.blackstone@rapidcityjournal.com and follow him on Twitter or Facebook @SDBlackstone.

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City Reporter

City reporter for the Rapid City Journal.