A city rarely gets an opportunity to make an investment that pays off indefinitely. At the most recent La Grande City Council meeting, the council voted to submit a Letter of Intent to move forward on a Quiet Zone Process, eliminating train whistles in La Grande.
Some people seem to have a sentimental attachment to the noise of train whistles. Some have simply grown used to it. But visitors to our town, including people looking to move here, do notice the whistles.
I run a bed-and-breakfast, and whistle noise is the predominant complaint from my guests. Train whistles inhibit tourism and growth.
Some people think that upgrading train crossings and eliminating the whistles will make train crossings more dangerous. But the Federal Railroad Administration has detailed statistics on what makes crossings safer and has methodology for calculating safety. The median barriers proposed in the Quiet Zone Ordinance leave the crossings on average 22 percent safer, even without whistles.
Some people think that investing in train crossing improvements is a waste of money. But consider this: Train whistles bring down property values. Ask any Realtor. If you want a good deal on a house, shop for one close to the tracks. All those houses will become more valuable if we have a quiet zone. If a whistle-less town attracts more residents, that also will increase property values. This, in turn, leads to increased tax revenues to support our schools and infrastructure. A final thought on expense: Crossing modifications will be funded by public/private partnership. Supporters of the quiet zone have commitments of around $50,000 from private donors, about 25 percent of the cost of the improvements.
In addition to increased property values, a whistle-less town is much more attractive to visitors. Tourism brings cash to local businesses, supports cultural growth and “puts La Grande on the map.”
A higher profile may succeed in attracting businesses to our vacant business parks, something more traditional efforts have failed to do.
Some people are neutral about the whistles. They don’t care either way. Perhaps those people don’t realize that train whistles are bad for our health. They cause hearing damage, which worsens as you move closer to the tracks. They cause stress and sleep deprivation, which in turn cause multiple health problems, including hypertension and heart disease. Noise is clearly recognized as an environmental pollutant.
We all want a healthy community, both in economic and medical terms. We all want our city to grow and be a place where our kids want to live. We should all support the Quiet Zone Process as a step in the right direction.