Vail Daily column: Sound wall would benefit residents
Editor’s note: The following is Part 2 of a two-part report from the Vail Homeowners Association. The association keeps a close eye on economic and political trends in and outside of the Vail community. The electronic version with links to supporting documents is available at http://www.vailhomeowners.com.
Sound walls can reduce highway noise from 5 to 7 decibels. Installing sound walls as part of the Simba Run underpass project would bring down the noise level for a nearby resident so much so that they could for the first time enjoy their outside decks and have windows open on a sunny summer or winter afternoon. This drop in the effects of highway traffic noise would not only benefit quality of life for affected residents, it would also increase resale value of the benefiting residential units and properties.
CDOT will only fund an amount equal to what it would cost to build a 14-foot-high solid concrete wall. Such a design would likely be unacceptable to the Vail community but alternatives exist. If the community wants a better architectural and environmental design, then the town of Vail would be responsible to fund the difference in cost from its own revenues, but that could well be a sound investment.
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Some of the adjacent property owners have seized on the sound walls as a reason to scuttle the entire project. Federal regulations require that residents who would directly benefit from a sound wall project, vote on whether they desire it to be built or not. The voters are owners and residents of residential units adjacent to the Simba Run underpass. These units have been evaluated by authorities as being those residents who stand to materially benefit from the wall. Because it owns the adjacent Timber Ridge affordable housing complex, now under redevelopment, the town of Vail will cast nearly 34 percent of the vote.
While the decision to include sound walls at the Simba Run underpass is going to be submitted to a vote of the affected area, the implications are community-wide. CDOT is treating the Simba Run sound wall issue as a one-and-done decision whereby a rejection there would be treated as a community-wide decision to reject any sound walls.
Reconsideration could be a long time coming and CDOT will not look favorably on restoring a proposal that has been previously rejected. In fairness, it should be the entire community that is given the opportunity to say whether it wants the sound barrier wall based upon knowing when, where and how much a community-wide design and project will benefit the quality of their Vail experience.
More study is required to provide the community with a comprehensive overview of the importance of this decision. There now is sufficient data that the cost and sequencing of a system of community-wide sound barrier walls can be easily calculated. As well, the cost of delaying the Simba Run underpass can be estimated in a side by side comparison of the sooner or later costs of expanding the main and West Vail roundabouts. These factors should be in hand before decision makers render a final judgment on whether to proceed or not with the construction of either, or both, the underpass and associated sound barrier.
The noise study is a requirement of federally funded transportation projects; the federal government is funding nearly 70 percent of the Simba Run project. If the project exceeds its budget, then the project need not necessarily be scrapped; additional funds could be requested or the project could be shelved until more funding becomes available.
The requirement for sound walls was not anticipated nor included in the project’s original $20 million cost estimate. The Colorado Department of Transportation and the town of Vail have known for several years, because of earlier noise studies conducted by the town, that I-70 was in violation of federal noise standards.
It is important to note that the interstate’s violation of noise pollution standards extends, for the most part, through the entire length of the Vail community. If CDOT desires to expand traffic capacity through Vail, then it will continue to confront the sound wall requirement. The town, because it has not prepared an adequate community-wide sound wall plan, should resist being drawn into CDOT projects that are funded in a manner that uses the town’s lack of an acceptable sound wall plan as a reason for CDOT to not fulfill its responsibility to solve the interstate noise pollution problem throughout the entire community.
As the CDOT noise study shows, there is a direct quality of life and financial effect upon property valuations for affected owners from interstate noise pollution. Noise pollution levels are expected to increase along with traffic projections. There could be added environmental benefits such as installing a state of the art roadway drainage system, which would be a major first step in cleaning up the effects of roadway pollution on Gore Creek.
The noise study, graphic representation of the project, sound wall designs and an audio recording of the reductions in highway noise levels for sound walls of varying heights are accessible on the Vail Homeowner Association website under the Simba Run underpass report.
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