Hamilton residents want something done about train noise, but it could cost millions

Published: Sunday, March 04, 2018 @ 11:00 AM

With a study now finished, Hamilton officials have facts as foundation for train quiet-zone decisions

In Hamilton, train horns can frequently be heard, either from tracks nearby or in the distance.

City leaders are hoping to reduce the sound pollution in coming years.

Minnesota-based SRF Consulting Group recently completed a study of Hamilton’s 29 public railroad crossings, where trains blare their horns day and night. If the city creates rail “quiet zones,” trains would sound horns only when danger appears imminent.

But the noise reductions could take years. They also could cost millions. The city hopes to win federal and state assistance, but so far has not identified where the money would come from.

A quieter city would be good news to people like Michael Doyle, a resident of Hamilton’s Lindenwald neighborhood.

“We need to do something about the trains!” he wrote on Facebook. “I stay up ‘til 3 a.m., and from 11:30 p.m. ‘til then, I hear over 100 horns being blown… They need to extend the (train gates) across the whole road so cars can’t go past, and only blow (their) horn once. They say they have to blow it 4 times… I hear them do it 6 times a lot…. And some blow their horn while sitting there, not moving. This is ridiculous.”

MORE ON TRAINS: Blocked rail crossings becoming fewer in Butler County

Woody Parman, a neighborhood leader in the Jefferson neighborhood, which is immediately east of Hamilton’s downtown, believes quiet zones would help improve his area.

“I think it would possibly improve the chance for more people to move into the neighborhood,” said Parman, a 15-year resident who barely hears them himself anymore. “That’s a big deterrent, having to live next to train tracks in the neighborhood. It’s pretty close on two different sides.”

City officials have noted that quieter trains would open up several sites, such as the former Beckett Paper property north of the downtown, for development.

Under a railroad-safety law Congress approved in 1994, trains are required to sound their horns at every public-rail crossing in the country.

But when local governments make improvements — such as crossing gates that extend entirely across the roadway so vehicles can’t drive around them, or 100-foot-long concrete medians that also prevent driving around the gates — the Federal Railroad Administration can allow quiet zones.

In an initial take on the SRF Consulting Group’s report, City Clerk Nick Garuckas said the city may attack what the consultants call Quiet Zone 2, a CSX stretch from Vine Street in German Village to Laurel Avenue in Lindenwald, near where Doyle lives.

Garuckas, who was tasked with overseeing progress on the rail study, said, “Zone 2 is something we are looking at a little more seriously, only because that line receives the most amount of train traffic, and so you could eliminate the most amount of horns in one swoop.”

He added: “It’s a longer one, so you’re looking at a little more cost. That’s just a knee-jerk reaction. This study’s only a month old.”

Quiet zones are considered less safe, so federal officials typically require safety improvements be made to make them less dangerous in other ways. Rail safety is particularly important in Butler County, which regularly is among Ohio’s 88 counties with most train crashes, deaths and injuries involving both vehicles and pedestrians.

Unless a given crossing is closed completely, one thing that would be required for safety at each crossing would be “power-out indicators”, which let train engineers know that electricity is not working so they know to blow their horns to alert motorists they are approaching. Other improvements likely to be required are “constant warning time” detectors, which are programmed to put down crossing gates 20 seconds before trains arrive, based on the trains’ speeds.

Such improvements would cost about $250,000 per crossing.

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Here are cost estimates for the various zones, depending on extent of improvements:

  • Quiet Zone 1 (CSX, between Rockford Drive on the West Side to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the East Side, with nine crossings): $1.3 million to $3.4 million.
  • Quiet Zone 2 (CSX, Vine Street in German Village to Laurel Avenue in Lindenwald, with 11 crossings): $1.5 million to $3.5 million.
  • Quiet Zone 3: Two crossings that are removed or soon will be eliminated. No need for changes.
  • Quiet Zone 4: (Norfolk Southern, 7th Street east of downtown to Ivy Lane near the Butler County Regional Airport, with eight crossings): $920,000 to $2.3 million.

“It’s all about managing risk,” Garuckas said. “You have that risk going across it now with a horn. You’ve got a risk without it. That’s what it all boils down to, is just how much do you want to pay for your quiet zone, how can we make this safer, what’s logical, what’s too exorbitant?”

Local governments face a financial risk when they create quiet zones, Garuckas said. When federal railroad officials evaluate the safety of crossings in future years, and they find the danger of crossings has increased — either because there have been wrecks at a crossing or traffic has changed — the governments can be required to make further improvements.

The city would hope for federal or state funds to improve crossings. All in all, the silencing of horns could take years.

“If we were looking at pulling the trigger tomorrow, and we had all the funds in place, it looks like it’s a minimum a year,” Garuckas said. “I think it’s more realistic in a few years – I would say two or three, but that depends on outside funding sources. Because something like this, the city wouldn’t want to be the sole financial backer.”

FROM 2017: Hamilton seeks ‘quiet zones’ for rail crossings

The city likely will attack one zone at a time, if the program happens at all.

“I feel the least we can do is look at whether it’s plausible, Garuckas said: “If it all comes back and we all say, ‘Hey, this is something that we’ve got other budget priorities right now,’ then at least we know, and we can say, ‘Hey, we have this information.’ All we’ve got to do is dust some of it off, update a few numbers, and we can go forward.’”

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Warren County forum to focus on ways to fight opioid epidemic

Published: Thursday, June 21, 2018 @ 4:47 PM

            Warren County is holding a public forum on the opioid crisis on Tuesday, July 17 at the county career center. Pictured is a Your Voice Ohio forum at the MidPointe Public Library in Middletown. Your Voice Ohio is a collaborative of 30 media organizations across the state including this news organization. ED RICHTER/STAFF
Warren County is holding a public forum on the opioid crisis on Tuesday, July 17 at the county career center. Pictured is a Your Voice Ohio forum at the MidPointe Public Library in Middletown. Your Voice Ohio is a collaborative of 30 media organizations across the state including this news organization. ED RICHTER/STAFF

Warren County is taking another step in efforts to combat the effects of the opioid epidemic on the community.

RELATED: Warren County applies for grant studying first responses to overdose cases

County commissioners will host a community forum on Tuesday, July 17, to discuss a recent study conducted by the Addiction Policy Forum on the opioid crisis in Warren County.

The Addiction Policy Forum recommended 21 steps to better respond to the epidemic and its effects on families, as well as drug addicts themselves, in Warren County.

MORE: Ohioans offer solutions to opioid crisis

The recommendations include convening a community coalition on substance-use disorder, launching a public awareness campaign and expanding resources to support those suffering from the disorder and their families and caregivers.

The forum is to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Warren County Career Center, 3525 N. Ohio 48, north of Lebanon, in Clearcreek Twp.

MORE: Wilmington forum on opioid crisis

The Addiction Policy Forum is affiliated with the U.S. Justice Department. It recently completed an analysis of the existing county network responding to opioid issues, including overdoses, in the county.

Leaders in health, social services, treatment, recovery services, education, business and first responders are to participate in the forum.

For more information, call 513-695-1250 or email sherri.carbo@co.warren.oh.us.

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Miami County moves to add $5 license plate tax for roads

Published: Wednesday, June 20, 2018 @ 10:28 AM

            A license plate example from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. CONTRIBUTED
A license plate example from the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles. CONTRIBUTED

TROY – Miami County commissioners heard no opposition during a public hearing on a proposed $5 supplemental license tax to generate more money for county road maintenance.

The additional tax was authorized by the state legislature in counties where commissioners approve its implementation. Most of the state’s largest counties have OK’d the supplemental tax including Montgomery County.

Miami County Engineer Paul Huelskamp explained the proposal Tuesday during the first of two public hearings. The second is scheduled for Tuesday, June 26, at 9:10 a.m.

MORE: Warren County drivers to pay $5 more for vehicle registration

Huelskamp said the county paved 24.04 miles in 2017. He noted, however, the industry standard for repaving is every 10 years. To meet that standard, the county would need to pave about 42.35 miles per year.

Huelskamp said the added money would help the county get to a 15-year cycle. The county is responsible for 424 miles of road.

The $5 supplemental tax would generate an estimated $552,000 to $649,000 more a year. That would allow for seven to nine more miles of paving annually, Huelskamp said.

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County Commissioner Greg Simmons said he has had several people call him complaining about the condition of county roads in the 18 months since he joined the commission.

“I have had one call about the license plate tax. It seems to me more people favor getting more done,” he said.

If the commission approved the supplemental tax by the end of July, it would go into effect in 2019.

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Warren County has tried to start 2 major projects for years, but these problems are stopping them

Published: Sunday, June 17, 2018 @ 10:04 AM

            The Warren County Event Center is to be built near the entrance to the county fairgrounds in Lebanon.
The Warren County Event Center is to be built near the entrance to the county fairgrounds in Lebanon.

Warren County already is hard-pressed to come up with the money to pay for two construction projects that have been in the plans for years.

Last week, however, county officials said the work is more difficult now because of rising construction costs.

U.S. trade tariffs could worsen the problems for commercial construction in Warren County and elsewhere in the country, according to the chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).

Warren County has sought money to pay for an event center planned to replace grandstands at the county fairgrounds, and commissioners for almost a decade have planned an expansion of the county’s juvenile and probate court complex.

RELATED: More U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods

Ken Simonson, chief economist for the national association of general contractors, said construction problems reflect national price hikes in building materials and goods that have prompted commercial contractors to begin raising their prices.

“Construction is really feeling the heat of rising material costs,” said Simonson. “I am concerned that the tariffs that have been announced … will push up construction costs even more.”

Still, last week in Lebanon, the county commissioners green-lighted negotiations expected to result in construction of a scaled-down version of the court facilities expansion, although staff said they had been unable to find a contractor willing to do the work for the $3.5 million budgeted.

At the same meeting, the commissioners put the brakes on the construction of the $3.8 million event center — already out of the picture for the county fair in July — while reviving an old feud with Lebanon officials that dates back at least four years. The fight is about whether any of the city’s $1.5 million share of $3 million in state funds set aside for redevelopment of the former racetrack and the areas immediately around them should be spent on the fairgrounds property.

RELATED: Warren County Fair to host another year without event center

“We’ve got a jail to build,” Commissioner Dave Young said, noting the county is involved in number of multi-million dollar construction projects. “This is at the bottom of my list.”

RELATED: State changes racetrack redevelopment rules to require Lebanon-Warren County collaboration

Event center deficit rekindles feud

Young directed staff to ask the city to help cover a deficit of almost $500,000.

“I want them to tell us they don’t have any money for this redevelopment,” Young said.

Lebanon has spent all but $403,000 of its share of the racetrack redevelopment funding through contributions to development of a new LCNB building on the north end of downtown and site work on the former city garage site just south of the fairgrounds in anticipation of redevelopment commercially or as the site of the new fire station.

RELATED: Lebanon among Ohio cities redeveloping racetracks

Both projects are within the area where the funds for racetrack redevelopment can be spent, according to state law set up after legalization of racinos in Ohio. The law came about when the new owners of the license for the raceway long operated at the county fairgrounds in Lebanon moved out to the Miami Valley Gaming racino west of the city limits, near Interstate 75.

But none of the city share has been spent on the fairgrounds, vacated by the racetrack owners when the racino opened.

RELATED: Ohio’s newest gambling venues opens in Warren County

Last week, Lebanon City Manager Scott Brunka said the city council had decided to spend the rest of its share on improvements establishing an entertainment district downtown.

RELATED: Lebanon appeals to state for downtown entertainment district funds

“The City has coordinated the release of the remaining redevelopment funds with the Ohio Development Services Agency, with a final application being submitted shortly,” Brunka said via email. “The City has not budgeted for any financial contributions to the proposed event center.”

Asked about the city’s view of its responsibility to help redevelop the fairgrounds, Brunka pointed to an April 2015 resolution passed by the commissioners agreeing to collaborate on distribution of the funds and leaving it up to Lebanon leaders where to spend the city share.

RELATED: Warren County leaders debate fairgrounds redevelopment as clock ticks on state funds

Gene Steiner, president of the county agricultural society, said the city might feel some responsibility, since much of the $460,000 the project is over budget comes from stormwater management and water supply improvements required by the city.

“I think it’s an appropriate question,” said Steiner. He is president of the group that’s better known as the fair board, which manages the annual fair and the facilities where it is held just north of Lebanon’s historic downtown.

“The mayor’s been very supportive,” Steiner added. “That doesn’t mean they are going to write a check.”

Meanwhile, Steiner said he was meeting with port authority officials for preliminary discussions of the event center being developed by the port authority through a series of leases like those used to keep building costs down on projects, including the racino, while also avoiding adherence to prevailing wage laws required on public projects.

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Other options laid out last Tuesday by Deputy Administrator Martin Russell had the the fair board picking up the difference or “walking away” from the project.

Steiner said he did not like those other options, while adding that part of the problem was higher costs associated with a booming commercial construction sector.

Construction costs inflate projects

“Business is booming. Contractors have lots and lots of work to do. It is not a cheap time to do any project,” Steiner said.

The cost of materials, as reflected in a producer price index, has jumped 8.8 percent (compared to 2.8 percent for the overall consumer price index) over the last 12 months, including 2.2 percent from April to May, according to Simonson, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

While recognizing higher costs could have an effect, Randall Fox, executive director of the AGC West Central Ohio division in Dayton, said the primary problem was different in this region.

“The biggest problem our contractors are having is finding quality people,” he said, adding contractors said they were slower in completing work due to the skill levels of workers they were hiring.

The AGC based in Cincinnati referred questions to economist Simonson, who said he lacked local perspective, but added that contractors from too far from the project site could hesitate to bid for contracts of $3 million to $4 million due to higher fuel costs.

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The construction company expected to build the event center, Conger, is based in Lebanon, and HGC, selected for the court expansion, in Cincinnati.

Cost overruns are showing up earlier in the public development process in cases, like those ongoing in Warren County, where a construction manager at risk is hired by the government at a set price, Deputy Administrator Russell said.

Scaled-down expansion moves ahead

The commissioners budgeted $3.5 million for an 11,000 square foot expansion of the juvenile and probate court facilities, including two new courtrooms.

Yet they agreed last week to let staff negotiate a construction contract expected to cost hundreds of thousands more, saying they potentially could save on long-term operating costs.

County Administrator Tiffany Zindel pointed to the common problem with rising construction costs.

RELATED: Warren County moving ahead with $2.5 million juvenile-probate expansion in May 2017

“They have enough work,” Zindel said. “What I’m telling you is we are not coming in at $3.5 (million).”

This after court staff, headed by Judge Joe Kirby, agreed in 2016 to downsize the expansion from 17,000 to 11,500 feet. A second and third courtroom are the cornerstones of the expansion.

“From the moment we moved into this facility in 1996, we have virtually been at full capacity. We are hopeful that negotiations are successful so that we can complete our addition, which will aid us in serving the public more efficiently,” Kirby said in an email after the meeting.

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Kettering school levy one step closer to November ballot

Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 8:43 AM
Updated: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 8:10 PM

The Kettering School Board voted to put a 5.99-mill levy on the November ballot saying it will eliminate a projected budget deficit in 2021 and realign strategic goals set by the district.

UPDATE @ 8:10 p.m.:

Kettering City Schools Treasurer Dan Schall estimated the proposed 5.99-mill levy would generate approximately $7.5 million annually.

This is pending the Montgomery County auditor’s certification of the current tax valuation of the school district.

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The levy proposed for the November ballot would cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $17.47 a month.

UPDATE @ 6:45 p.m.:

The Kettering Board of Education voted unanimously to place a 5.99-mill levy on the November ballot.


The Kettering school board will discuss tonight whether to put a new operating levy on the ballot in November.

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Last November, voters in the Kettering school district overwhelmingly renewed a 4.89-mill property tax levy, which didn’t raise taxes but switched the property tax from being a 5-year levy to a continuing one, which generates nearly $4 million annually.

Passage of the levy helped fund salaries, operations and rising technology costs.

The levy costs the owner of a $100,000 home $149.76 annually. Kettering voters have supported repeated levies and bond issues in 2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013.

Tonight’s discussion will center around potential timing of the proposed levy, according to Kari Basson, community relation coordinator for the district.

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In 2016, district officials put together a a 10-year capital plan mailed to residents indicating several items that the school district needed to address, including kindergarten and preschool classroom space, plus major renovation of the Barnes building, high school auditorium and career tech areas. That’s in addition to smaller investments in textbooks and technology, roofing and paving, and athletic facilities.

District officials said in their mailing that if the 2017 levy was approved, it will “keep the Kettering City Schools off the ballot for new money until at least 2019.”

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