Railroad quiet zones will require closing of streets

POSTED: 06:42 PM MDT Apr 23, 2013    UPDATED: 04:57 PM MST Jan 15, 2014 
EL PASO, Texas -

City Council voted 6-2 Tuesday to close several El Paso streets in order to establish two railroad quiet zones in Central and East El Paso.

A quiet zone is a railroad crossing where trains are prohibited from sounding their horns, something several El Paso neighborhoods have to deal with at all hours of the day and night.

But Tuesday's agreement with Union Pacific Railroad to establish two quiet zones in exchange for air rights for the new Downtown Ballpark over the Bataan Trainway created a lot of controversy.

"It's loud!" said East Side resident Robert Barajas, who has lived about 50 yards from the train tracks off of Cadwallader for the past 28 years. "It's loud and it's bothersome. I mean, especially at night when you're trying to get some sleep. It's been a big bother for us."

Train horns can only be silenced if other safety measures are put in place and one of those options is to completely close some streets.

Cadwallader is one of several streets that will eventually be closed permanently in order to establish a quiet zone for trains in the University Medical Center area. Other street closures in the UMC area will be at Estrella, Cebada and Boone streets between Durazno and Alameda.

Another quiet zone will be established in the Five Points area. That will require the closing of three more streets, Birch, Cedar and Elm between Grant and Pershing.

"The trains in order to meet their federal standards have to essentially lean on that horn for half a mile," City Representative Susie Byrd said. "So it's been a huge nuisance for the neighborhood they've asked for a solution."

However, some members of City Council, including Rep. Eddie Holguin, who along with Carl Robinson voted against the quiet zones, said the issue has not been properly vetted.

"I've been here same amount of time that you have and I've never talked about closing the streets," Holguin told Byrd during Tuesday's meeting. "We talked about quiet zones."

"If you weren't paying attention, that's not my fault," Byrd told Holguin.

"I did vote for quiet zones because quiet zones you can pass back and forth," Holguin replied. "Closing a street, you can't.

Even the Superintendent of the Ysleta Independent School District, Michael Zolkoski, showed up to oppose the closures.

"Every action has a reaction," Zolkoski told Council. "If you close more streets, 37 (bus) routes would have to reroute to a cost of $287,000 a year."

Representatives Byrd and Emma Acosta told ABC-7 they have been discussing the closure of streets for at least five years. The street closures are not expected to take place until next summer. Cadwallader, however, will remain open until the Carolina Bridge reconstruction -- which will include room for pedestrians -- is completed by 2017. A new pedestrian bridge at Cadwallader will also eventually be built, according to City officials.