MARINETTE - The Marinette City Council wants to examine its long-range plans and gather input from residents before setting the wheels in motion to establish a quiet zone. Such a measure would prohibit trains traveling through the city from blowing their whistles at night.

The council Monday evening heard a detailed report from Andrew Mielke of SRF Consulting Group Inc., Minneapolis, which outlined the cost estimates to upgrade the safety measures at the railroad crossings in the city.

Following Mielke's presentation, Alderman David Buechler suggested the council include the quiet zone issue in its needs assessment study and also mail surveys regarding the matter to city residents in their monthly water bills. A motion to that affect was approved 8-0 with Alderman John Marx excused.

Mielke's Power Point presentation took about an hour and it broke down potential safety improvements to each of the eight railroad crossings along with estimated costs. He encouraged an open discussion and got plenty of questions from the council.

"I will tell you it's at least 25 to 1 that people don't want to spend that kind of money," Alderman Bradley Behrendt said, "and that's too bad because I think it's a good idea, too. But I just can't justify it, I just can't do it."

Behrendt was referring to the cost estimates - anywhere from $165,000 to $760,000 depending on which of the four scenarios the city would choose. There also would be engineering costs which could add another $20,000 to the cost.

City Engineer Brian Miller emphasized that the city would be involved in the engineering process, but SRF would be used to guide it through the technical aspects.

Behrendt questioned if the city could afford the low cost of $165,000 plus engineering costs.

"We don't have that kind of money laying around," he said.

At least one alderman disagreed.

Alderman Dennis Colburn said it's a matter of the city using its money wisely.

"The money is there if you look at the frivolous spending that the city is doing," he said, adding that money could be saved by trimming overtime costs.

Colburn said the most important aspect is making the railroad crossings safer. Behrendt disagrees, saying that the calls he receives are about the cost and not one person has mentioned safety.

The eight crossings in question are located at Riverside Avenue, Ella Court Street, Hall Avenue, State Street, Carney Avenue, Mary Street, Cleveland Avenue and Roosevelt Road. The Canadian Railroad is the only railroad company affected.

The consultants recommend doing no work at the State Street and Hall Avenue crossings. The cost estimates at Cleveland Avenue, Mary Street, Carney Avenue and Riverside Avenue range from $35,000 to $50,000 each with the bulk of the work being the construction of medians.

The scope of work at the other two crossings - Ella Court Street and Roosevelt Road - would determine the cost of the project.

At Ella Court Street, the city could construct medians on both sides of the crossing, close nearby Fred Street and adjacent business accesses and construct gates, lights and constant warning devices and lights at a cost of $305,000. It also could close Ella Court Street at the crossing at no cost to the city because the CN Railroad and the Department of Transportation would split the $15,000 to have that done.

At Roosevelt Road, the city could construct a median south of the crossing and widen the roadway at a cost of $290,000 or it could exclude it from the quiet zone at no cost.

Alderwoman Martha Karban said she's heard a lot of support from people in her ward (8) for closing Ella Court Street.

Miller and Mielke said both the police and fire chiefs were questioned about that possibility and they were open to discussion. Buechler said Bay Area Medical Center paramedics and the Emergency Rescue Squad also should be consulted.

Behrendt said he believes business owners facing Hall Avenue probably aren't aware of the impact closing Ella Court Street would have on them.

Mielke said the CN Railroad sends six trains through the city each day. Each train is required to blow its whistle four times at each crossing, so that's a total of 32 horn blasts by each train. He cautioned that even with a quiet zone, all horn blasts will not go away.

"The train engineer could sound the horn at any time if he or she feels that there is a potential danger to someone or something - that even includes animals such as a dog or a deer," he said. "When I say a quiet zone, I want to caution you, don't think you'll never ever hear a horn in town again."

Behrendt said he's concerned if the city were granted a quiet zone and later the Federal Rail Administration takes it away because of an accident at a crossing.

Mielke said he's helped establish about 35 crossings nationwide and has never had one taken away.

Alderwoman Dorothy Kowalski said it appears the council was on the same page as far as looking at the city's long-range plans and getting public input.

Miller said the needs assessment study should be completed in April.