Chuckanut Bay residents ask county to make neighborhood a railroad ‘quiet zone’

Residents along Chuckanut Drive don’t want to hear trains blowing their horns as they approach the Yacht Club Road crossing, and they’re willing to pay to bring more peace and quiet to their high-end neighborhood.

A couple dozen residents of Chuckanut Bay came to a meeting of the Whatcom County Council on Tuesday, March 17, to ask for safety improvements at the crossing that would eliminate the need for train engineers to blow their horns every time they approach Yacht Club Road.

“I invite you to come down some time at 3 o’clock in the morning,” said Steve Tuckerman, who lives on Chuckanut Shore Road. “Then you can see some of the things we have to put up with.”

“It’s a quality-of-life issue,” said Jeremy Carroll, a Chuckanut Drive resident. “The train horns are not something you get used to.”

Quality of life isn’t the only concern. Property values have suffered because of train noise, residents said. Ron Welding said he has had trouble selling his house on Chuckanut Crest Drive, which is listed for $1,595,000.

“We have lost a couple sales because of this,” Welding said. “It is now getting to be a very real problem.”

Spearheading the request on behalf of the neighborhood is Kathy Bovenkamp, who wrote a letter to council on Feb. 10 requesting last week’s meeting.

“Chuckanut Bay acts as a giant amphitheater, and the whistle noise travels quickly up the side of the Chuckanut Mountain and expands into the neighboring area,” Bovenkamp wrote.

Hundreds of homes are within the train whistle’s reach. At the meeting, Bovenkamp said she was confident she could solicit more than $100,000 from affected neighbors.

The county’s Public Works Department looked into establishing a quiet zone at Yacht Club Road about 10 years ago, said Joe Rutan, the department’s interim director. The cost then for the necessary safety improvements was $260,000, he said.

If the cost is that high, Bovenkamp said, then maybe the county would help pay for the improvements, which could include extra crossing arms or a median in the road to prevent cars from skirting around the arm blocking their lane.

Rutan asked the council to be cautious about funding a quiet zone for Yacht Club Road without looking at other crossings in county jurisdiction that would benefit from the designation. Rutan cited the densely populated area near the Cliffside Drive crossing just north of the Bellingham city limits.

“Those people out there are going to say they’re the worst (for noise),” Rutan said.

Several council members, including Ken Mann, saw no problem with moving Yacht Club Road to the top of the quiet-zone list.

“If Cliffside comes to us and says they’re willing to pay for it, they can get on the list tomorrow,” Mann said.

The council voted unanimously March 17 to have Public Works and BNSF Railway come up with an updated rough estimate of the cost of required improvements.

Unrelated to the Chuckanut Bay effort, the city of Bellingham has taken steps to establish railroad quiet zones citywide. The Bellingham City Council passed a resolution in December authorizing Mayor Kelli Linville to initiate the process of creating quiet zones where crossings are located, near Fairhaven and at the waterfront. The estimated cost is $5 million to $6 million, Linville said. The city has no long-term plan for funding improvements at the 11 crossings.