City Discusses Study Process, Soundwall Technology With Residents

Saturday, October 6, 2012

More than 80 Rockridge residents crowded into the Rockridge Library meeting room on September 27 to hear about soundwalls and the process that might lead to their construction in the Rockridge area.

Organized by the city of Oakland, the meeting presented a wealth of technical information on sound wall functionality, the sound wall study process, landscaping considerations and the preliminary technical report evaluating noise levels in Rockridge.

Following overviews by Zac Wald, chief of staff for Councilmember Jane Brunner, and Victoria Eisen, consultant to the city for the settlement project process, Wlad Wlassowsky, head of Oakland's transportation services division, talked about funding and the projects. He explained that the decision facing the city and the neighborhood was not about building soundwalls, but whether to do the additional studies known as Noise Barrier Scope Survey Reports (NBSSR) needed prior to construction decisions.

Studies for two sections of SR 24 in Rockridge – eastbound from Vicente Way to Broadway and westbound between Ross Street and Telegraph Avenue – could proceed if supported by a two-thirds majority of affected property owners (generally the first two rows of residences along the freeway). This is the same level required for other transportation projects on residential blocks, such as permit parking and speed humps. Caltrans engineer Glenn Kinoshita said soundwalls could be most effective for residents whose line-of-sight to freeway traffic would be blocked by a soundwall 10-14 feet high. For other residents, a change in sound volume is possible, but likely not noticeable. Kinoshita said various soundwall designs are approved by Caltrans. More expensive than masonry walls, transparent soundwalls were justified on I-580 in San Leandro because their lighter weight did not require retrofitting the elevated superstructures. In Rockridge, there is too little space bordering the freeway to use trees or other vegetation as natural sound barriers.

Invited to comment or ask questions, two residents said the study money, drawn from the $8 million Caltrans settlement with the city, would be better spent on others. projects. Most other comments were either neutral or supportive of the study process. Several speakers urged consideration of more aesthetically pleasing transparent soundwalls such as found in Europe and Asia.

Before year's end, the city will identify relevant property owners and distribute official petitions. Soundwall studies may proceed if sufficient support is shown by the end of the petition period, probably next September.