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Buckhorn wants relief from train horns for downtown residents

By Kevin Wiatrowski
Published: August 5, 2014

TAMPA — As Mayor Bob Buckhorn tries to bring more full-time residents into downtown Tampa, his dreams are bumping up against a regular dose of a noisy reality every time a train passes through the city on its way to Port Tampa.

CSX sends trains through downtown between 5 p.m. and 4 a.m. As they cross street after street on their way south from Ybor City, train drivers blow their horns to warn nearby pedestrians and drivers to clear out of the way.

While a train horn in the night may be romantic from afar, it’s a different story when it’s bouncing off downtown’s skyscrapers at 3 in the morning.

“When you’re on the lower levels and the parking garage, it’s almost unbearable even with your hands on your ears,” said Jeff Zampitella, president of the Skypoint condo tower homeowner association.

Skypoint sits on the south side of the rail line that runs down the middle of Polk Street. Zampitella lives on the 28th floor of the tower.

“I thought moving in here that 300 feet would give us a nice cushion,” Zampitella said.

Not so, he said.

Buckhorn will ask the Tampa City Council on Thursday to allocate more than $90,000 to study creating a quiet zone from Ybor City to Port Tampa.

“As our urban area continues to densify, the train horns bounce off surrounding developments. They are becoming more of a nuisance to residents and potentially stifling economic opportunity,” the mayor said in a statement. “This is the start of a process to mitigate those impacts and evaluate what needs to be done.”

CSX trains cross 65 streets on their route down the peninsula. Those crossings will have to be upgraded, potentially with new gates, street medians and signs to reduce the risk of getting hit by a train in the quiet zone.

The study would determine how much all those changes would cost. Buckhorn expects it to be finished by December.

Under federal law, train engineers must sound their horns — two long blasts, one short, then one long — 15 to 20 seconds before they reach a crossing. Amid downtown’s short blocks, engineers must sound horns pretty much continually as they move between Nebraska Avenue and the Hillsborough River.

City Councilman Frank Reddick represents downtown and Ybor City, as well as a number of East Tampa neighborhoods with similar train-noise issues. He said he’d like to see the quiet zone plans expanded to East Tampa.

“This is a systematic problem for the other parts of Tampa, as well,” Reddick said. “I have a train within a half mile of my house. At 5:30 in the morning, you hear the trains.”

Zampitella said Skypoint residents and other tenants downtown have been invited to a meeting Aug. 19 with the mayor’s staff to talk about the quiet zone.

“The train was here first,” Zampitella said. “But we have a mechanism to deal with it, and this may be the time to use it.”

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Twitter: @kwiatrowskiTBO