UDOT plans to poll Jeremy Ranch property owners again about noise wall
The Utah Department of Transportation is giving Jeremy Ranch homeowners one more chance this week to determine whether they still want a combination of a berm and a sound wall along Interstate 80 or if they would consider another option to mitigate traffic noises.
UDOT plans to re-issue ballots to the original 27 property owners who voted in favor of a noise barrier with panels ranging between 7 and 17 feet on top of a variable-height berm by the end of the week. Voters approved the noise barrier, the first of its kind in Summit County, in December in anticipation of construction of a new westbound climbing lane on Interstate 80 between Jeremy Ranch and Parleys Summit.
The new ballots will ask the property owners if they want to eliminate the variable-height berm design in favor of a smaller, less intrusive mini berm that would include a significant amount of natural vegetation.
Opposition to the noise barrier from others in the area has remained strong ever since the project was first announced. A group was formed, Citizens Against the Wall, that continues to denounce UDOT’s findings. The group claims the balloting process did not include all of the affected property owners in the area and that the design the voters approved will not sufficiently produce a reduction in traffic-related noises to make it compliant with UDOT’s Noise Abatement Policy.
John Montoya, UDOT’s project manager, said in an interview on Tuesday the mini berm would not mitigate noises to the level that is required under UDOT’s policy. However, he said the option is being presented because of the lobbying efforts of Citizens Against the Wall pushing for another choice.
“It falls short of our reduction that we need to have, but we have heard a significant amount of people who are opposed to the noise wall and so we have done a lot of work to come up with options,” he said. “It is a little tricky because we haven’t done this before. Looking at our policy, the only way for that to occur is for the current noise wall to be voted down by the same people who voted for it.”
Ballots were originally sent to 27 property owners adjacent to where the proposed noise wall would be built, along with Jeremy Ranch Golf Course, which received two votes. At least 75 percent of ballots had to be returned, with 75 percent of those in favor of the measure for it to be built. According to a UDOT report, 100 percent of ballots were returned. Only two voted against the barrier.
UDOT has since also contemplated constructing a considerably larger berm with a retaining wall measuring 22 feet tall on the Jeremy Ranch Golf Course, Montoya said. But, the berm would cost $5 million to construct and would require UDOT to secure right-of-ways from the golf course. He said UDOT’s funding is limited to $1.2 million and no other entity was interested in covering the difference.
“We were left with a wall option or a mini berm,” he said. “We can’t fund the bigger berm option so we are going to basically put to ballot this additional option.”
All of the 27 balloted property owners would need to be in favor of rescinding the variable-height berm and noise wall option for UDOT to move forward with the mini berm.
“I think we have exhausted every single thing out there,” he said. “If there was something else out there that we could afford and would provide the acceptable mitigation, we would do that in a heartbeat.”
If the property owners decide against the mini berm, UDOT plans to commence construction on the berm and noise wall in July. Montoya said a legal challenge would be the only way to stop construction.
“But, I think that would be problematic because I think we have followed our policy,” he said. “But, that is the only way I could see that we would stop would be for a judge to rule against us.”
Montoya is expected to present UDOT’s findings to the Summit County Council on Wednesday along with Bryan Adams, UDOT’s Region 2 director. The item is listed on the agenda as a work session. Public input will not likely be taken. “We are going to present our ballot option to the noise wall and give them an update as to what we have done in terms of noise abatement options,” Montoya said.
County Council Chair Kim Carson said UDOT approached the county about discussing the difference scenarios before settling on the berm/noise wall combination. She emphasized that the county does not have any authority over the project, which is under UDOT’s purview.
“Summit County can discuss ideas, concerns and desires on our part, but it is ultimately their project,” she said. “The biggest thing we can do is stay in good communication with UDOT to make sure they are aware of the concerns.
“We have several citizens who are impacted by freeway noise so we have to respect that there is a group of citizens out there that really want to see the wall,” she added. “We’d like to see the sound mitigated and, unfortunately, under their cost constraints, it’s going to be difficult to get something everyone will be happy with.”
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.