Also taking into account which areas would benefit most from sound wall segments, officials will then decide whether to use $4.5 million in designated county Measure R funds for design and completion of a piecemeal plan.
The other option would be to spend that $4.5 million on designing a complete sound wall project and wait to start work for nearly a decade until more Measure R money arrives.
Either way, Measure R alone will not provide the more than $20 million needed to construct sound walls running along the entire length of the city on both sides of the freeway, City Manager Mark Alexander said.
Council members nonetheless appeared hopeful that existing studies and fresh feedback from residents could lead to the completion of some walls.
“I’d rather build one segment than design 500 and have [a plan] sitting on a shelf,” said Councilman Greg Brown. “The hard part, obviously, is picking that segment.”
City officials would have to identify plans for a sound wall segment by July 1 for Caltrans to be able to take on the project in its coming fiscal year, but private contractors are also an option and council members are reluctant to make any rushed decisions.
Councilwoman Laura Olhasso criticized spending millions on a long-term, wait-and-see approach as a “waste of money,” but she also cautioned council members not to promise too much from a partial-construction approach.
Despite years of discussion over potential sound wall construction, only one member of the public attended this week’s study session — and, like Olhasso, he’s skeptical that a sound wall segment here or there will make much of a difference.
“I’m wondering why they’re rushing to spend $4.5 million, just because they have it, with no promise of any more money until 2020,” said former City Councilman Jerry Martin, who lives south of Berkshire Avenue relatively close to the freeway.
Martin is not convinced that sound walls will reduce noise levels throughout the city, fearing the walls may instead redirect sound into other neighborhoods. Even if the walls quiet freeway noise for the 213 homeowners identified by the city, he worries the project’s price tag outweighs its public benefit.
Council members also discussed whether the upcoming survey should gauge residents’ willingness to form assessment districts to help pay for sound wall construction in their neighborhoods, but that was a concept Olhasso and Councilman Dave Spence were reluctant to embrace.
“If you start talking about assessing people, I think it’s going to blow this thing apart,” said Spence.