Quiet Zone work picks up steam

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The first phase of the city’s new quiet zone infrastructure is under construction, and City Hall’s team is optimistic the remaining work will be completed by the end of the year.

After a three-year gap between Kilgore City Council’s November 2014 green-light and this month’s groundbreaking on one of three affected railroad crossings, the only recent quirk is the narrowness of Southport Road.

According to Kilgore Assistant Director Public Works Mat Kronner, the width of the pavement is forcing the city’s in-house construction crews to close the road to through-traffic when work is underway.

“Basically it’s just for safety. Err on the side of caution,” Kronner said, the workers building the necessary forms to add a median as well as curb-and-gutter among the various safety improvements that will help qualify the overall stretch of railroad as a quiet zone.

The other two intersections awaiting improvements cross the tracks at Main Street and Lantrip Street in downtown Kilgore. A fourth crossing, Danville Street, will be removed as part of the project – it was already on Union Pacific Railroad’s list of looming eliminations.

As the work at the Southport Road crossing progresses, Kronner doesn’t anticipate the other crossings will need to be closed as frequently when that construction begins.

“We’re going to do the best we can to keep one lane of traffic open,” he said. Meanwhile, on Southport, “We’re trying to pull it back open at night when we’re not actually out there.”

Kronner began working at City Hall in March 2014. The quiet zone project was one of the early tasks he was assigned under former public works director Seth Sorensen (Clay Evers now holds that post).

“I was able to draw and design up the actual closures with Seth reviewing the plan,” Kronner noted. “Now to get construction underway is really good to see. Once we get the quiet zone itself to kick-in, I think it’s going to be a really great thing.”

The project is still evolving to a degree: after last week’s construction kick-off, it became apparent the original plan to improve curbs on Southport might not be enough. This week, the city’s crews replaced their initial forms for more extensive improvements.

“Basically, just to be sure we’re doing it the right way so it gets approved as a quiet zone,” Kronner said, once the completed project is submitted for Union Pacific’s review. “We wanted to do that true curb-and-gutter.

“Potentially, as soon as this week they can pour the media,” aimed at helping prevent drivers from maneuvering through the crossing as the trains, to be muted in about a year, move along the tracks.

There will be some demolition work on-site in the coming days, Kronner noted, before the second pour on Southport Road.

“That’s the really quick one,” he added, nevertheless optimistic about the schedule at Lantrip and Main’s crossings. Coordinating the work with Kilgore ISD officials, “They said when there are children on a bus they don’t go over the railroads anyway, so that made it easier to work with the school” regarding the traffic feeding nearby Kilgore High School.

“Weather-permitting, we’re still planning to have everything knocked out by the end of the calendar year,” after which – assuming approval by Union Pacific – conductors will still have time to become accustomed to the new quiet zone before they silence their horns except in emergencies.

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