Rockridge Soundwalls

Approval process: What if ACTC's process had been initiated?

According to Vivek Bhat, Senior Transportation Engineer, Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC), that agency normally entertains requests for soundwalls only from residents who live directly adjacent to a freeway (first row of houses) or directly behind the first row of houses (second row). As part of ACTC's approval process, it is these residents who are eligible to sign (or not sign) a petition for soundwall approval, since they are the most affected by freeway noise. Sometimes these residents make a request to ACTC for soundwalls through their local city government. In that case, before taking the process any further, ACTC is supposed to ask that local government for the names of the residents who made the original requests.

What would have happened if the City of Oakland had initiated ACTC's soundwall approval process? Most likely, the project would have died - because there is not the necessary level of grass roots support. (In fact, an application to ACTC in 2005 for one of the proposed soundwalls failed due to lack of community support.) The City of Oakland and the Fourth Bore Coalition would have had to work with the property owners adjacent to Highway 24. The proposed projects would have had to be explained and support from those residents most affected by soundwall construction would have had to be obtained. In other words, the burden would have been on the City and on the Fourth Bore Coalition to demonstrate support for building soundwalls before any more steps were taken. But instead the burden has fallen on residents opposed to soundwalls to try to stop the construction.

ACTC Soundwall Policy mandates a "Property Owners Petition" (Step 18) which is described as follows:

"During the initial screening, Caltrans will define the specific location of the soundwall and identify the residences that will be adjacent to it and/or affected by it with a minimum 5 decibels noise reduction. The ACCMA will ... request that a petition from the property owners be circulated for those proposed soundwalls... In order to evaluate support in the neighborhood, a petition favoring construction of a soundwall must be signed by a property owner from 100% of the households with a property line that immediately faces the proposed soundwall and 75% of the households with a property line not immediately facing the proposed soundwall, but experiencing a minimum 5 decibels in noise reduction, as defined by Caltrans (multi-unit structure petition requirements will be considered on a case by case basis)... The jurisdiction will collect the petition and forward it to the ACCMA with the required signatures. If the petition requirements as detailed above are not met, the jurisdiction may submit an appeal with the petition. The appeal should address issues such as why a soundwall should be pursued with less than the policy mandated support levels and why a soundwall should be pursued if there is not unanimous support from the property owners with a property line that immediately faces the proposed soundwall. The goal of Step 18 is to assure the ACCMA, the region, and the State that there is strong support for the soundwall before further efforts are made on the project to make it eligible for programming."

So, if enough property owners sign the petition, the soundwall is approved. If there are not enough signatures, ACTC can still approve the soundwall at its discretion. In 2011, An ad hoc poll of some of my neighbors showed a 50-50 split between those who favor soundwalls to reduce freeway noise and those who object to the visual impact that such construction might have. (I reside in the second row of houses south of Highway 24.) In 2014, the actual soundwall study petition results showed that only 76 (54%) of the 140 property owners who would be eligible to sign ACTC soundwall approval petitions signed the City's soundwall study approval petition. This result was far below what ACTC policy would require for soundwall construction approval.

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