Highway 280’s neighbors grow desperate for sound wall

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Heavier traffic on Highway 280 since the I-35W bridge collapse last August has spurred renewed efforts to get sound walls completed along the road where it passes near homes.

For at least 30 years, St. Anthony Park and Lauderdale residents have been debating the need for sound walls. Some lament the loss of a view to the west, particularly from a favorite vantage point at the edge of Lauderdale. Others argue that noise reduction and safety trump aesthetics.

A stretch of the highway between Kasota and Como avenues finally got a wall a decade ago after the Legislature mandated it, bypassing the usual list of statewide noise abatement requests. At the time, Lauderdale opted out.

Conditions have changed, said Lauderdale’s state representative, Mindy Greiling. “I’ve heard from eight or ten people that live over there,” she said, referring to Walnut Street, where back yards abut the freeway, “and they are desperate.”

MnDOT says traffic counts have doubled since vehicles from 35W got rerouted onto 280, with dramatic increases in noise levels. Greiling said she fears recent decibel levels may be dangerous to the ears, especially for children playing outdoors. There may be a way to protect the view, she said, but “we have to have that sound wall.”

She said there is also concern that a driver could lose control and crash into a garage or house.

MnDOT area engineer Marc Goess, who has been working with neighborhood groups, said the sound wall is “the best long-term solution.” He conceded that resurfacing might also help but said it would wear out over the years.

He said he and others at MnDOT are “searching around trying to find funding” for the wall, and that it might be eligible for federal funding associated with the bridge collapse.

A St. Anthony Park group, Citizens Concerned for Habitable Neighborhoods, organized a meeting in November that drew city and state officials to talk with residents about possibilities for noise abatement.

The Lauderdale City Council addressed the issue at an informational meeting in October and has posted a summary on its Web site (www.ci.lauderdale.mn.us). The site also encourages interested citizens to write to Minnesota Transportation Commissioner Carol Molnau.

Greiling said that she’s glad to get letters from residents but that she’s already exploring every option she can reach to make the project happen, starting with her own letter to Molnau last fall, to which, as of mid-December, there was “still no answer.” By all means write to your representatives, she said, “but don’t stop with us.”

Greiling said getting the governor and the transportation commissioner (who is also lieutenant governor in the current administration) to allocate money would be the quickest, surest route to seeing the wall put in place. State law allows sound walls under two conditions: in connection with a major project, and as part of a long list generated by MnDOT traffic studies.

Greiling is arguing that the continual upgrading of Highway 280 should be declared a major project, allowing the sound wall to bypass the statewide waiting list.

She said she’s also working with legislative leaders to get the project included in this year’s transportation bill as a backup plan in case federal dollars pass it by.

The Citizens Concerned group is pursuing resolutions in favor of the sound wall in remaining areas of St. Anthony Park as well as Lauderdale. Organizer Gaye Larson said MnDOT told her group they’d need to show that the neighborhood is united behind the request. The group hopes to secure support from the St. Paul City Council soon.

Larson, who lives on Bourne Avenue, said she’s been in this fight for many years. The existing length of sound wall, she said, “didn’t just fall out of the sky.”

Greiling said desire for the wall has been building in recent years in Lauderdale but that the sudden increase in traffic has made the project more urgent and at the same time presented the opportunity to secure federal highway funds focused on the bridge collapse.

“If we miss this opportunity,” Greiling said, “I think that come spring, when the windows are open, there’s gonna be hell to pay.”

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