Neighborhoods nix sound walls

In an unlikely victory, Como and Marcy-Holmes both voted down the walls.

Neighborhoods nix sound walls

Jane Campbell

Celebratory red stickers were stamped on lawn signs around the University of Minnesota this week after an unlikely victory.

Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como residents struck down the construction of four sound walls along Interstate 35W Friday.

Kevin Gutknecht, Minnesota Department of Transportation communications director, said sound wall votes typically succeed.

“It is highly unusual to have people fight against this,” he said.

Residents voiced concerns for environmental impact and quality of life, as well as the effect the sound walls’ decreased visibility could have on area crime.

Cordelia Pierson, Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association president, credits strategies like lawn signs and door-knocking as the driving force behind the victory.

The MHNA also brought in engineers to inform property owners about the environmental and aesthetic impact of the sound walls, she said.

Larry Prinds, MHNA board member and door-to-door volunteer, said he was impressed with participation in the month-long vote.

“Personal contact with student renters helped a lot to get out the vote,” he said.

Shannon Evans, University urban studies senior and MNHA member, said she knew some University students who volunteered door-to-door, too.

MnDOT supported building the walls by default, said west metro manager Scott Pedersen, but the neighborhood fought back.

“If you don’t want the noise wall, it’s important that you cast a vote,” he said. “The neighborhood did a good job of getting people out to vote.”

Residents said they felt the sound walls issue highlighted MnDOT’s unfair voting process.

Under the current voting regulations, a property owner’s vote counts twice, while a resident’s vote counts once and not voting counts as a yes.

A number of property owners live outside of Minneapolis, making it harder for them to vote. Pierson said she was fearful that would create an unfair advantage.

“These are injustices, even though they are not intentional injustices,” she said.

Prinds said MNHA board volunteers urged large property owners in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood to vote, which made a “big difference.”

Each residence received one vote, regardless of the number of people living there. Fraternity and sorority houses, for example, each received a single vote.

“This dehumanizes the voting process,” Pierson said. “It should be ‘one person, one vote.’”

MnDOT proposed the sound walls more than a year ago as part of a larger project to renovate Interstate 35W.

Although the process has been lengthy, Ricardo McCurley, Southeast Como Improvement Association coordinator, said residents were responsive once the voting started.

With the sound walls voted down, Pierson said she hopes the neighborhoods will move past this issue and come together to fight for something positive.

One of Marcy-Holmes’ new priorities is enhancing the walkability of the neighborhood with improvements to its pedestrian bridges.

“We want to be fighting for connections instead of fighting against dividers,” Pierson said. “We want people to speak up for positive things.”