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News / Life / Clark County Life

Noise study startles Fairway Village residents

Left out of plan for sound barrier, they want WSDOT to redo its research

By Jake Thomas, Columbian political reporter
Published: April 6, 2019, 6:00am
8 Photos
Jennifer Munson of Vancouver describes the proximity of her backyard to Highway 14, which is due to be widened. Munson and many of her neighbors along Southeast 35th Street believe the project should include extending a sound wall nearer to their homes.
Jennifer Munson of Vancouver describes the proximity of her backyard to Highway 14, which is due to be widened. Munson and many of her neighbors along Southeast 35th Street believe the project should include extending a sound wall nearer to their homes. Alisha Jucevic/The Columbian Photo Gallery

During a weekday midmorning, Jennifer Munson stepped into her backyard in east Vancouver and put her hand to her ear.

“Oh, hark,” said Munson. She added, “Do you find yourself talking louder?”

The noise Munson was calling attention to was hard to miss: the steady whoosh and growl of cars and trucks speeding along state Highway 14, which her backyard overlooks. Munson and other residents of Fairway Village, a community for people 55 and older, are worried that the noise from state Highway 14 will get worse as the result of a planned widening of the busy arterial to accommodate the area’s growing traffic.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is planning to build a noise-mitigation wall along the north side of the highway. But the wall won’t extend to Fairway Village. Residents have questioned the data and methods the department used to determine the location of the wall and have formed a committee on the issue.

WSDOT spokeswoman Tamara Greenwell said that while it’s understandable that residents want a noise-mitigation wall, the department used state and federal standards to ensure its placement is equitable and driven by data. She said that the decision came down to two considerations: How reasonable and how feasible is its placement?

“We follow a very strict, scientifically grounded approach to see what areas will qualify for noise barriers,” said Greenwell.

The highway-widening project was funded in the 2015 “Connecting Washington” transportation package and originally allocated to widen the Camas Slough Bridge. The project was later shifted to a highway-widening project on state Highway 14 between Interstate 205 and Southeast 164th Avenue, which receives more traffic.

According to Greenwell, more than 82,000 vehicles use the highway each day. She said that the $25 million project, which is in the design phase, will add auxiliary lanes as well as a westbound shoulder lane for peak use.

But the prospect of having seven lanes of traffic within 120 feet of Fairway Village has drawn concern from its residents. Both Munson and Debby Lavinder, who lives down the street from her along Highway 14, said they’ve been keeping an eye on the project since 2014 and have been in contact with the department as it approaches its 2020 construction date.

Committee formed

WSDOT is required to complete a study in areas predicted to have a traffic-noise level of 66 decibels or greater. Late last year, the department concluded its study of where to place the wall and held an open house with residents, said Greenwell. They called for a roughly 5-mile wall to be built from the edge of the Wildwood neighborhood to the Cascade South East neighborhood.

In February, the Fairway Village homeowners’ association approved a special committee on the widening project. Speaking in a room in the community’s clubhouse, members of the committee laid out maps, photos and other documents that they said are evidence of flaws in the study. The members of the committee said they just want the study done correctly.

“The data is skewed,” said Janet Landesberg, a retired administrative law judge who chairs the committee.

Landesberg said that the study doesn’t reflect true traffic noise levels because the department conducted its study midmorning, between rush hours. The members of the committee also took issue with how the study factored in an already existing retaining wall between houses in Fairway Village and Southeast Cascade Park Drive, which runs along state Highway 14.

But they said that the existing wall does little to block sound because it is shorter. They also said that the department relied on a noise measurement near a drainage ditch on the eastern edge of Southeast 35th Street that is farther from the highway and is separated from it by a concrete wall and a dirt and boulder berm. The site is noticeably quieter and Landesberg said it’s not representative of the neighborhood.

“We’re saying, ‘Please just do those tests,’ ” said Lavinder.

Greenwell explained that the noise levels weren’t tested during rush hour because stop-and-go traffic doesn’t produce as much sound as other parts of the day.

“We do the noise study when we know we are going to get consistent highway traffic noise,” she said.

She said that the study did consider topography. According to the department’s website, the average construction cost is $51.61 per square foot, meaning that a 14-foot-high wall costs about $3.9 million per mile. The department has $5.4 million recommended for a noise wall for the project.

Greenwell said that the department considers if it’s reasonable to construct a wall given its costs and the density of homes in the area. She said that the study recommended the wall in areas where there were enough people that would be impacted by future traffic noise.

While she said that the decision about the wall has been made, the department will continue to work with the neighbors.

“We are in the weeds with residents in the neighborhood,” she said.

Columbian political reporter