Temporary walls part of Vail noise research

Scott N. Miller
July 13, 2004

Town officials are working on a plan - a plan that still requires clearance from the Federal Highway Administration - to move temporary noise barriers to a few sites in Vail to determine both their effectiveness at blocking traffic noise and how residents feel about how they look.

In a town, in which "view corridors" are a part of local law, there's no consensus about the aesthetic impacts of noise walls, no matter how they're built.

What there was consensus about at a Town Council meeting last week, though, was that one plan for temporary noise barriers just won't fly. Vail Town Council members said that given a choice between dozens, if not scores, of empty semi trailers and temporary noise walls, they'll take the walls.

"I just don't think truck trailers will fly in Vail," Councilman Dick Cleveland said.

And, while the town has roughly $260,000 in this year's budget for a noise wall experiment, Cleveland also said he'd like to see the town investigate how to reduce highway noise at a house-by-house level.

The noise wall experiment is part of a larger effort this year to measure and attack highway noise in Vail.

The town's continuing "65 Max" program to enforce the 65 mph speed limit through town is part of that effort. In addition, a consulting firm has been hired to measure noise in various parts of town, both before and during the speed enforcement program.

That effort has resulted in a drop of about 3 mph in the average traffic speed and about 1 decibel in the overall noise level, town public works supervisor Greg Hall said. By itself, the noise drop is virtually unnoticeable, he said. However, if other measures can reduce the noise from the highway by 5 decibels or more, the drop would be significant.

Getting the noise level down may take years. One possible answer, the use of "quiet" asphalt, will get a serious look from the Colorado Department of Transportation. However, I-70 through Vail isn't due for re-paving for several years.

In the interim, the temporary walls may provide data about just how effective noise barriers can be in town. Hall said several sites have been identified for the trial, but the first use will probably be in the area of the Roost Lodge and Matterhorn neighborhood in West Vail. There, the temporary barriers could be put on both sides of the highway.

That, Hall said, could answer a couple of questions: Whether the walls actually work and whether residents are willing to look at them.

"My neighbors have different feelings," Councilman Farrow Hitt said. Hitt, who lives in the Matterhorn neighborhood, said some of those neighbors are fine with noise walls, others favor a new kind of glass block sound wall currently finding favor in Europe and some don't want their views spoiled.

But with a permanent solution years down the road, residents are taking what steps they can to tone down the highway's whoosh and roar. Hitt said he's installed a water feature in his backyard, which helps.

Hall has a similar feature at his home.

"I think there are more passive ways to address noise," Hitt said. "Walls are an expensive solution."