City to hold informational open house on wayside horns

DEL MAR — With design plans for a wayside horn system nearly ready for public review, council members at the Jan. 24 meeting authorized staff and a citizens committee working on the project to hold an informational open house in the City Hall annex next month.
Several years ago residents began looking at various projects to decrease train horn noise at the Coast Boulevard crossing. Early proposals were cost prohibitive, however, beginning at more than $1 million.
A group of persistent residents eventually discovered the more affordable wayside horn system, which uses stationary horns permanently installed at the crossing to warn pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists of an approaching train.
The two fixed-location horns would replace the need for engineers to use their train horns.
They would sound at 92 decibels 100 feet from the center line. Public Works Director David Scherer said typical train horns are more than 100 decibels, and conductors often start sounding them one-quarter mile away.
The wayside horns are also directional so they can be pointed to sound away from the residential areas adjacent to the crossing.
The project was approved by City Council last year with the understanding that no city funding was available.
The estimated cost for the system is $276,770, which includes $17,548 that was already raised through private donations to fund the design phase.
The system will be installed and maintained by North County Transit District. Matt Tucker, NCTD executive director, said he felt “reasonably confident” the project could be completed at or below the estimate.
An additional $10,000 could be required for environmental costs, but Tucker said given the scope of work, the state will likely grant a categorical exemption for the project.
There will also be legal and ongoing maintenance costs, but those are unknown because the system is a first for NCTD.
While the committee remains committed to raising the additional $260,000 for construction, the group asked City Council to consider providing financial assistance if fundraising efforts fall short.
“That is contrary to our agreement,” Councilman Carl Hilliard said in response to a written request presented during the annual two-year work plan retreat
Jan. 22. “We had a firm agreement and they accepted that.”
“Council, from the very beginning, made it 110 percent clear that there were no funds available to go toward this project,” committee member Larry Richards said at the Jan. 24 meeting. “We’ve known that from the very get-go.”
As committee members seek donations, Richards said some residents have been asking if the city is contributing financially.
“I would just ask that you be mindful of that as we continue to move forward,” he said. “There’s a good chance it’s going to take all of us to continue to put money and time and effort to facilitate this.”
“We have, in essence, contributed considerable staff time and legal time and now (an) open house,” Hilliard said. “It’s not that we’re not wanting to support the effort. It’s just that financially, it’s difficult. So in your discussions I hope you’re saying the city is doing what the city can do.”
Although the city ended the year in a more favorable financial position than projected, City Manager Karen Brust said any additional unexpected funds would be used for critical projects that involved safety or legal issues.
Residents who live within 300 feet of the railroad from 21st Street to Eighth Street will be notified of the open house through direct mail. Signs will be posted at the 17th Street Safety Center and near the railroad crossing. Information will also be posted on the city website.
Following the open house, staff will present City Council with final plans, updated construction costs, public input from the event, updated NCTD maintenance costs and an estimate of future legal costs.

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