Neighborhoods halt city project to build noise barriers along Interstate 35W

The wall would cost an estimated $5 million.

by Yasin Mohamud

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 âÄî which is a considerable improvement, said Scott Pedersen, west area engineer for MnDOT.

But a group of residents says the wall would do âÄúmore bad than good.âÄù

âÄúThe wall would cut off our views and block the sunlight off of our gardens and would create nice little nooks for crime,âÄù said Arvonne Fraser, vice president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association and a 30-year resident of the neighborhood.

Fraser said she wasnâÄôt 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.

âÄúThey have a crazy system for voting that they canâÄôt even explain,âÄù Fraser said. âÄúWhen I asked the question about voting rules, I got three different answers.âÄù

Votes are weighted by the propertyâÄôs 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.

âÄúThe only reason this special meeting was called was because we complained,âÄù Fraser said.

Pedersen said there is lack of communication between residents and the department.

âÄúWe didnâÄôt really have a lot of time to do the proper outreach and thatâÄôs why weâÄôre taking a step back now to determine how we move forward,âÄù 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.

âÄúI think she does make a good point about the openness and the connectivity, and itâÄôs just going to feel like theyâÄôre more cutoff and shadowed,âÄù 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.

âÄúWe want to re-engage the public, but we havenâÄôt pulled all the agencies together yet to address all the issues and work out a strategy,âÄù he said.