Quiet zone price tag doubles
Complaints from Maitland city officials have been anything but quiet this month, after news that safety improvements to the city’s seven railroad crossings are expected to cost double compared to original estimates. And that the city is expected to foot the bill for all the overages.
“We were led to believe one number, we budgeted for a number, and then it jumped 100 percent on us,” said Maitland Mayor Dale McDonald at the City Council’s June 27 meeting.
An email from the Florida Department of Transportation’s SunRail program manager arrived in Maitland’s assistant public works director’s inbox on May 19, alerting him that retrofitting the city’s rail crossings with quiet-zone appropriate equipment would cost substantially more than expected.
Maitland, along with several other Central Florida cities, was awarded a matching grant from FDOT in February 2015 to assist with the development of quiet zones throughout the surrounding rail corridor. The zones reconfigure intersections of road and rail with extra layers of safety barriers to keep cars off the tracks as a train approaches, making it unnecessary for trains to blow their horns at every crossing.
The grant allowed Maitland to split the estimated $1.3 million cost of retrofitting its rail crossings with FDOT, the city footing 51-percent of the bill – $700,368 – and the state supplying the rest. Maitland transferred those funds to the state to start the project in June of last year.
But now FDOT is asking the city for an additional $767,415 to make the project a reality, as cost estimates have swelled to $2.4 million. In the May 19 email, FDOT asked that that additional money be committed to them by June 6. Or, the email said, the city could choose to only renovate a certain number of crossings that could be covered by the original $700,368.
Maitland City Manager Sharon Anselmo told the Council at its June 27 meeting that FDOT had since backed down from that deadline, allowing affected cities across Central Florida more time to make a decision and relook at value-engineering the increased costs.
“At this point we’re able to keep the funding and not give them an answer and work through the pricing and see why it increased so dramatically,” Anselmo said.
At its previous Council meeting on June 13, the Council agreed that they would pay FDOT an extra $113,000 – on top of the $700,368 already paid – which would cover the new costs of renovating five of the seven proposed rail crossing. With all the crossings not improved under that deal, the Council agreed it would not seek a quiet zone designation until a later date when all improvements could be made.
“This is not about horn honks; we’ve survived for some 130-odd years with horn honks,” McDonald said. “This is about safety.”
But now that FDOT has extended its deadline to allow the cities to re-crunch their budget numbers, Anselmo said the city will wait to commit to a deal until after all costs and funding options have been explored.
City officials will meet with FDOT to discuss the quiet zone costs on July 7. Anselmo said she will provide the City Council with an update at one of its July meetings.