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Downtown residents have mixed feelings about Ottumwa's quiet zone plan

Ottumwa is set to follow Fairfield's lead and ban train horns in downtown./Alonso Reyna

The sound of train horns in downtown Ottumwa will soon be a thing of the past.

After years of planning, the City of Bridges will implement a quiet zone.

That means trains will no longer sound their horn before they cross an intersection. But before this can be done, safety measures must be implemented to ensure the safety of those crossing the tracks.

Ottumwa Public Works Director Larry Seals explained to KTVO how the intersections have to be modified to keep drivers safe without the warning blast of a train horn.

"You have a raised center median that’s 9 inches at the intersections that all are 100 feet long. So, once you pull up, even if you start getting impatient, you can’t go around the crossing arm," Seals said.

The center medians are a concern for some downtown business owners. They are worried that medians will divert traffic flow to their business.

"With these medians up right now, they block people coming from the back way in and if we have no front access and we have no back access in, that’s a concern," said Terri Baird.

The city of Fairfield implemented quiet zones six years ago. City officials say they ran similar concerns at the time. Now residents seem glad the city followed through on the quiet zone plan.

"I’ve talked to several people who have lived before and after they did say that after the quiet zone, the quality of life improved, their sleep improved, in some cases their business improved, rental properties along the tracks, business properties along the tracks have seen improvements," Fairfield City Councilman Michael Halley said.

That is sentiment shared by others in downtown Ottumwa.

Nicole Buffington works at Manpower, just a few yards from the tracks.

"Although it doesn’t really interfere here with our work at Manpower, just being outside of the business you can definitely hear the horns. They’re overwhelming at times, just the noisiness is what disturbs me with it. So, I’m definitely for it," Buffington said.

And for the those who are concerned about safety, or just think the piercing sound of train horns are part of Ottumwa's charm, Seals says the sound of horns will still be heard from time to time.

Engineers can sound the horn if they believe a warning blast is needed.

Seals expects the $275,000 project to be fully implemented by the end of the year. The money was provided by the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation. That non-profit is located downtown near the tracks.


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