Guest editorial: Leader of opposition group reacts to noise wall review |

Guest editorial: Leader of opposition group reacts to noise wall review

Tom Farkas
Citizens Against the Wall

Citizens Against the Wall alleged that the Utah Department of Transportation was in violation of its own noise policy. CATW is disappointed that legislative auditors did not fully comprehend the stated allegations to find UDOT in violation. However, the auditors did recommend UDOT make policy changes regarding three of our major allegations. The auditors stated "UDOT should clarify its Noise Abatement Policies and Ensure Consistency with Federal Regulations."

One CATW allegation is that UDOT built a "berm/wall," even though there is no provision in UDOT Noise Policy for a berm/wall. Current policy defines a noise barrier as only a "wall," but UDOT built a berm/wall outside of its policy, anyway. The audit only says that UDOT should change their policy to allow for a berm/wall to be consistent with federal regulations (23CFR772).

Another CATW allegation is that there is no such thing as "mixed land use categories" or "combined cost criteria" in UDOT policy or 23CFR772. UDOT conceived of the concept of "combined cost criteria" for the residential and recreational land uses at Jeremy Ranch. This concept results in doubling the maximum allowable cost. That was the only way to justify the cost of both the wall and the berm/wall. The auditors did not recognize this as a violation, but did recommend that UDOT clarify how to calculate allowable cost for mixed land use categories. How can UDOT do this and be consistent with federal regulations when there is no such thing as mixed land uses or combined cost criteria in 23CFR772?

UDOT, as stated in the audit report, "agreed that the current noise abatement policy permits using an even simpler method to calculate the allowable cost: add the allowable cost total for residential areas to the allowable cost total for the recreational areas for the entire length of a single noise wall." At Jeremy Ranch, the recreational land use length is 2,373 feet and the residential land use length is 2,560 feet. This total of 5,833 feet of land use is how UDOT cost justified a single 3,200-foot-long wall.

If there was also an office or restaurant/bar in the same area (NAC Land Use Activity Category E, also with a maximum cost criteria of $360 per lineal foot), would UDOT triple the maximum allowable cost to justify building a noise barrier? Using UDOT's "simple" method would allow a Jeremy Ranch wall to be 36 feet tall. There is nothing like this method in 23CFR772. Therefore, it would be impossible for UDOT to be consistent with federal guidelines using their "simple" method.

CATW also made an allegation that UDOT did not correctly calculate the total cost of the berm/wall to demonstrate that it was cost reasonable. This is a violation of UDOT policy, because they did not calculate nor include the cost of the berm. The auditors did not see this action as a violation. However, they recommend that "UDOT revise its noise abatement policy to ensure that anticipated calculations capture the cost for a whole noise abatement measure." The auditors noted "the cost of the berm was not considered because the current policy only supports calculations based on a noise wall."

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What can Utah citizens do, in any community, to prevent UDOT from operating outside of policy? Apparently, not a thing.