Minneapolis residents beat the odds, defeat a noise wall

  • Article by: MARY LYNN SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 2, 2013 - 9:15 PM

Marcy-Holmes residents feared the freeway structure would further divide their community.

Chalk one up for the underdog.

A southeast Minneapolis neighborhood that pushed back against a planned freeway noise barrier overcame the odds tilted in favor of the wall and quashed the plan.

“Our neighbors are energized to make this one of the best neighborhoods in the region,” said Cordelia Pierson, president of the Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association. “It’s a very walkable neighborhood right next to the Mississippi River. It’s between downtown and the University of Minnesota. This is a great place to live.

“We happen to have great freeway access but going from one side of the neighborhood to the other is really hard and putting walls up there would make it harder. Putting walls up [would] only make it less safe and less desirable place to live.”

Wall opponents said the 20-foot-high buffer wouldn’t reduce noise significantly.

Instead, it would attract more graffiti and criminal activity, create dark corridors that make people feel less safe, and uproot trees and plants that the neighborhood volunteers put in the ground 20 years ago.

The $3 million noise wall would have gone up with planned construction of two new lanes to Interstate 35W between SE. 4th and NE. Johnson streets through the Marcy-Holmes and Southeast Como neighborhoods in southeast Minneapolis and Beltrami in northeast Minneapolis.

While residents in the Marcy Holmes and Como neighborhoods defeated the wall, the issue still has to be decided along the remaining sections in northeast Minneapolis.

The plan to build the wall was triggered because the noise level is estimated to hit 72 decibels with the freeway expansion — the same level it’s at right now, Pierson said. Under federal rules, a noise barrier is triggered when a project hits 70 decibels; it’s 65 decibels under the state’s rules, she said.

“The noise wall was going to go up unless people voted it down,” she said.

And that wasn’t going to be easy. “The voting was extremely biased in putting in a wall,” Pierson said. “If it’s a vacant property … the landlord doesn’t respond and there are no tenants, it counts as a yes vote. If someone is a registered property owner and has died, that counts as yes. If you don’t vote, it’s a yes.”

What’s more, only a small group of people — about 1 percent of the neighborhood — were eligible to vote. “It’s only those people who have apartments or houses that have outside access on the freeway side,” Pierson said.

And not everyone who was eligible to vote would do so because a high percentage of the community is made up of renters, and the turnover in residents is high, Pierson said. “When someone gets a mailing from [the Minnesota Department of Transportation] to vote on this wall, they might not think it’s for them. They might think it’s a piece of junk mail. Rules that MnDOT developed for statewide application apply very poorly to our neighborhood.”

To overcome the odds, wall opponents worked the phones, wrote e-mails, got in touch with landlords and put up lawn signs.

“Hopefully we energized the neighborhood to shape something more positive for the future,” Pierson said.

If this $3 million in walls isn’t happening, the neighborhood can now work on making the community more walkable and more connected, she said. “The question is how can we knit the neighborhood together better?”

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788

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