A plan to build sound walls on the east and west sides of Interstate 35W is putting the Minneapolis Department of Transportation at odds with residents of the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods.
The proposal to build a 20-foot-high wall along the freeway between Fourth Street Southeast and Johnson Street Northeast has been put on hold following strong negative feedback from the residents.
MnDOT said the wall, estimated to cost $5 million, will reduce noise from the freeway by five decibels — which is a considerable improvement, said Scott Pedersen, west area engineer for MnDOT.
But a group of residents says the wall would do “more bad than good.”
“The wall would cut off our views and block the sunlight off of our gardens and would create nice little nooks for crime,” said Arvonne Fraser, vice president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association and a 30-year resident of the neighborhood.
Fraser said she wasn’t happy with the process MnDOT used to notify residents about the construction. Residents have the right to veto the project through a vote.
In August, MnDOT held an open house where residents asked questions about the wall. Fraser said the community was left with the impression that more analysis would be done to determine if any sound walls would be necessary before further action.
In November, residents living closest to the freeway received a postcard from MnDOT informing them of an opportunity to offer input about the wall, which would replace the current 5-foot freeway fence.
The deadline for a response was Dec. 1, and any postcards that were not returned were counted as being in support of the wall.
“They have a crazy system for voting that they can’t even explain,” Fraser said. “When I asked the question about voting rules, I got three different answers.”
Votes are weighted by the property’s proximity to freeway, she said, and the wall gets built if the weighted votes against it fail to reach 50 percent.
MnDOT held a special meeting Dec. 14th for residents to voice their concerns and complaints.
“The only reason this special meeting was called was because we complained,” Fraser said.
Pedersen said there is lack of communication between residents and the department.
“We didn’t really have a lot of time to do the proper outreach and that’s why we’re taking a step back now to determine how we move forward,” Pedersen said.
He said MnDOT will now work to reach out to each neighborhood group and work through the issues.
City Councilman Cam Gordon said the city is neutral on whether or not the wall should go up, but said he understands the concerns Fraser and other residents have.
“I think she does make a good point about the openness and the connectivity, and it’s just going to feel like they’re more cutoff and shadowed,” Gordon said.
The original plan was to begin construction this year, but Nick Petersen, a project manager for the Hennepin County Transportation Department, said there is no longer a set date.
“We want to re-engage the public, but we haven’t pulled all the agencies together yet to address all the issues and work out a strategy,” he said.