Construction on Summit County’s first noise wall begins, despite continued pushback
September 7, 2018
Summit County's first noise barrier is beginning to take shape along Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch, despite countless efforts over the last year to prevent its construction.
The Utah Department of Transportation started delivering materials for the noise barrier on Wednesday, according to John Montoya, UDOT's project manager. Construction had been scheduled to being sooner, but UDOT faced delays with the delivery of materials and production.
The noise barrier will have panels ranging between 7 and 17 feet on top of a variable-height berm to mitigate traffic noises between the Jeremy Ranch on-ramp and Hidden Cove Road. The berm is already in place. Crews will likely begin placing the panels this week.
Construction is expected to take up to six weeks to complete. Once it is finished, the wall will be painted to blend in with the surrounding terrain.
"It's just a concrete wall with panels similar to what you've seen in Salt Lake on I-80, but this will have more of a rock pattern to it," Montoya said.
The project coincides with the construction of a new westbound climbing lane on Interstate 80 between Jeremy Ranch and Parleys Summit. UDOT had determined the additional westbound lane would increase current traffic noise levels in lower Jeremy Ranch and warranted mitigation.
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Montoya said noise barrier construction can begin now that the paving is complete on that section of the additional lane.
"That's what we were waiting for," he said. "What we discovered and didn't think through is that the berm is pretty steep. If we would have started paving the wall sooner, which was the plan, we would have had materials rolling down that berm."
Pushback over the noise abatement measure was almost immediate. A group, Citizens Against the Wall, quickly formed and denounced the findings of a UDOT study that concluded a barrier was necessary. Members of the group continue to claim the balloting process in which nearby residents approved the wall did not include all of the affected property owners in the area, the approved design will not produce a sufficient noise reduction and the project does not meet UDOT's cost criteria.
UDOT polled 27 property owners, including the Jeremy Ranch Golf and County Club, in 2017. Only two objected to the project. UDOT sent additional ballots to the property owners several months later to ask if they wanted to eliminate the berm design in favor of a smaller, less-intrusive option, but they did not, Montya said.
"We are just going to move along and fulfill our obligation to build the wall," he said. "We do appreciate all of the input from the community. We wish we could make everyone happy, but I don't think that will be possible in this case so we are obligated to move ahead."
Citizens Against the Wall even petitioned the Summit County Council to intervene. Discussions were held between UDOT and the County Council about the design, but ultimately the county did not have the authority to prevent the wall's construction.
Tom Farkas, a resident of South Ridge in Jeremy Ranch and member of Citizens Against the Wall, said the group was told the only way to stop construction of the noise barrier was to take legal action against UDOT.
"We consulted with attorneys and were told that it could cost up to $100,000," he said. "It would be like trying to catch an eel. If you go after them on one thing, then they will claim something else. We tried to get support from the County Council and they were empathetic, but also concerned about the people who voted to favor it."
Farkas questioned whether the County Council hesitated to take a stronger stance against the wall because of other projects UDOT has planned in the county.
"That to me is another sad commentary that the County Council didn't feel like they could push UDOT because they are concerned about working with them on future projects," he said.
County Council Chair Kim Carson said in an email the Council's goal was to make sure residents on both sides of the issue had a voice to try and influence the wall's design. She added, "Citizens Against the Wall was just one interested group. We also have residents that are highly impacted by the freeway noise."
"While we had the ability to question UDOT's process and provide design ideas, we did not have the ability to approve or deny the project," she said. "UDOT projects aren't subject to our local planning approval process."
Carson added that the county's relationship with UDOT is an "extremely important one." But, she said that doesn't prevent the County Council from taking an aggressive stance on a project.
"We worked diligently with UDOT to try to come up with alternatives and, in this case, we had property owners on both sides of the issue, and there were other factors involved that limited our input, such as federal funding and associated policies," she said.
Citizens Against the Wall also took their complaints to Gov. Gary Herbert's office, but was unsuccessful in thwarting the project. Farkas said it's frustrating the group was not able to stop construction.
"It's been a long effort and UDOT has never said what we told them was incorrect," he said. "They can do whatever they feel like they need to get done. But, as a state agency, they should be responsible and accountable and they aren't. They, quite frankly, don't seem to care whether they are accountable to anyone except themselves."