Noise wall looms for Mounds Boulevard neighbors

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A planned noise wall in the Mounds Boulevard area is dividing residents and building owners as the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MNDOT) gets ready to embark on an I-94 upgrade scheduled to begin in 2016.

The disagreement is between those who like their view of downtown St. Paul (and aren’t so bothered by the noise) and those who hate the noise (but may not mind having their view blocked or partially obstructed).

After feedback from neighborhood meetings and a vote by those in the affected area, the original proposal was refined, with current plans calling for the barrier to stretch about two-tenths of a mile along the east-bound lanes of I-94, from Conway Street to Hudson and Wilson Roads.

The issue was put to a vote because federal law requires that if highway noise exceeds a certain decibel level, then a wall must be erected unless the neighbors vote against it. But how the vote is conducted is subject to a complicated set of rules that evaluate proximity to the wall and allocate different numbers of points (or votes) to different categories of voters. Two points are allotted to renters, four to building owners and six to owner-residents. The votes are then further weighted by their proximity to the wall and, to make it even more complicated (some might say more undemocratic) the feds decree that for a vote against the wall to succeed, it must include more than 50% of all possible votes, not just those that are cast.

The vote in the affected area was 27 for the wall and 27 against and since, under the voting formula, this was not sufficient to defeat the wall or trigger a revote, the construction is planned to go forward.

Dissension continues among the neighbors, some of whom have asked the Dayton’s Bluff Community Council to help facilitate a new discussion with MNDOT.

And in another twist, although officially the noise wall has nothing to do with the proposed-but-still-unfunded Gateway Corridor that in 2019 would connect the Union Depot with Woodbury and possibly beyond, in reality the two projects connect. That’s because if the Gateway is built, one of the possible stops is on Old Hudson Road which would mean that a big portion of the noise wall would have to be torn down, and a new vote would be triggered for reconstruction of the wall. There’s not much disagreement among the Mounds Boulevard neighbors that that would be a big waste of money.