Review determines UDOT followed policies for Summit County noise wall
January 31, 2019
A legislative review released on Wednesday determined the Utah Department of Transportation was justified in constructing a noise wall along Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch, contradicting claims made by residents who opposed the project.
The review, conducted by the office of the Utah Legislative Auditor General, concluded UDOT adhered to its noise abatement policy and met federal and state statutes. But, it also encouraged the agency to clarify portions of its policy to prevent confusion in the future.
Opponents of the noise wall, the first of its kind in Summit County, claimed the barrier would damage views along the interstate and wouldn't substantially reduce traffic noise levels in lower Jeremy Ranch. A group, Citizens Against the Wall, denounced the findings of a UDOT study that concluded the barrier was necessary.
Members of Citizens Against the Wall continued to question UDOT's noise policy procedures as construction started, pleading with the Summit County Council to intervene. The group eventually took its complaint to Gov. Gary Herbert's office, but was unsuccessful in stopping the project, which was completed in the fall. The Legislature requested the Auditor General's review based on the concerns of Citizens Against the Wall.
The noise barrier has panels ranging between 7 and 17 feet on top of a variable-height berm between the Jeremy Ranch on-ramp and Hidden Cove Road.
The project coincided with the construction of a new westbound climbing lane on I-80. UDOT determined the additional lane would increase traffic noise levels and warranted mitigation.
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Citizens Against the Wall claimed UDOT used incorrect math in determining whether the project met cost effectiveness guidelines. The group also questioned whether both the wall-berm design and the balloting process UDOT used to poll homeowners affected by interstate noise met the agency's policy.
The review, however, found UDOT followed proper procedure. The report cited changes the agency made to its noise abatement policy after receiving an independent engineering firm's recommendation for the noise barrier as a potential factor contributing to residents' concerns about the project. Auditors did not recommend a full audit to further examine the project.
"Our review confirmed the conclusion reached by two independent engineering firms: UDOT was justified in building the noise barrier," the report states.
A call to a leader of Citizens Against the Wall was not immediately returned.
John Montoya, UDOT's project manager, said the results of the audit were "exactly what we were expecting." He maintained throughout the process that UDOT followed its policies.
"We slowed the process down quite a bit to make sure we were in compliance and everyone had their chance to weigh in and explore any legal action they may have wanted to take," he said. "We felt very comfortable with what we built."
UDOT polled 27 property owners, including the Jeremy Ranch Golf and Country Club, in 2017. Only two objected to the project. UDOT also 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 option, but they did not.
Montoya said nearby homeowners' feedback over the noise wall has been favorable. He said some property owners have requested that the height be increased.
"They feel like it has reduced the traffic sounds," he said. "We feel like it has been a big success in terms of what we set out to accomplish. It's not that much of a visual impact and it blends into the surrounding terrain. The general response has been positive."