Eight lanes of Interstate 90/39 could carry traffic through city
JANESVILLE The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is considering adding sound barrier walls along Interstate 90/39 through Janesville as part of the $1 billion project to widen the highway from the Illinois state line to the Madison Beltline.
Transportation officials have been planning for the expansion and meeting with residents for months. The department has scheduled another meeting with residents Wednesday.
Following are answers to some common questions, including those posed by residents who will live with eight lanes near their backyards. Answers come from DOT materials; Jay Waldschmidt, noise and air quality engineer; and Jim Oettinger, project manager.
Q: What work is planned?
A: Plans are to expand the Interstate to six lanes from the Illinois state line to Madison's Beltline and widen it further to eight lanes through Janesville.
Through Janesville, the median will be narrowed to minimize the use of right-of-way along the outside edges of the highway. Opposing traffic will be separated by a narrow median and two lines of barriers.
North and south of Janesville—with the exception of areas near the Rock River—the Interstate will revert to an 85-foot grass medium, and the highway will be widened outside the right lanes.
The construction means the state will build sound barriers for those segments that qualify and where the majority of residents request them.
The 45-mile construction project is expected to last from 2015 to 2021 and cost more than $1 billion.
Q: How do sound barriers work?
A: The concrete core of the walls is designed to absorb noise, reducing it 20 percent, or about 8 decibels. They also are designed to deaden the noise so it doesn't bounce to the opposite side of the highway.
The homes within 200 feet of the walls—usually the first row of houses—would get the biggest benefit. For those homeowners, noise would be cut in half. At about 500 feet, almost all benefit of the wall would be gone.
Q: Who decides where a sound barrier is built?
A: The state uses a complicated formula to decide whether a wall is feasible and reasonable. To qualify, homes must get a sufficient noise reduction within a set cost.
Barriers are considered for an area if people speaking near the highway must raise their voices to be heard.
Q: How much do noise barriers cost?
A: Average cost is $26 per square foot, or $2.2 million per mile for one side of the highway.
Q: Who pays for the barriers?
A: State and federal highway money.
Q: Can the walls be built before Interstate construction begins to shield residents from the construction dust?
A: Officials said they would do that if possible.
Q: What do the barriers look like?
A: The walls have texture and color, and the Department of Transportation tries to soften the look with plantings. Sometimes, they drill holes through the walls to plant vines. In some places, the vines grow well. In other places they don't. The department tries to save as many trees as possible. People can plant in the right-of-way on their side of the walls.
The walls usually are 16 feet high but can be shorter, depending on the elevation of the highway.
Q: How does an area get sound barriers?
A: The process has changed. Until recently, local governments passed resolutions in support of sound barriers. Now, each home along stretches that qualify for sound barriers—those that would get at least an 8-decibel reduction—get a vote. In apartment complexes, each resident gets a vote and the property owner gets a vote for each unit.
The Department of Transportation will mail paper ballots to residents, and the matter is decided on a simple majority.
Q: Why wouldn't people want sound barriers?
A: In Madison, people who did not want barriers objected to having a large wall in their backyards. They were afraid they might lose sunlight and their views.
Engineers discovered that people's preferences depended on the orientation of their homes to the road. If their bedrooms faced the road, they were more interested in a barrier than if their living rooms faced the road.
Q: When can people decide about the barriers?
A: It's now or never, or at least until the next Interstate expansion, which the Department of Transportation hopes won't be for decades.