State plans to make I-5 drive quieter, prettier

EVERETT – Want to look at sky, earth or water?

By 2008, all you’ll have to do is glance to the left or right as you drive down Everett’s I-5 corridor.

As part of a three-year, $220 million overhaul of the city’s stretch of I-5, the state transportation department is building 3.4 miles of sound walls over 10 miles between Highway 526 and U.S. 2.

Judy Stanley / The Herald

The city of Everett hired a Seattle design firm to create graphic art imprints for 3.4 miles of concrete sound walls. The walls are going up as part of the state Department of Transportation’s $220 million I-5 widening project.

The massive concrete walls, which could reach up to 25 feet in some places, will help reduce noise levels for approximately 370 homes in five city neighborhoods along the project area.

But that’s not all. The walls also are shaping up to be – well, pretty.

“If we can do some of the same work for not very much more money, why not make it more beautiful?” said Victoria Tobin, a Department of Transportation spokeswoman.

The project is also intended to improve safety and traffic flow, including extending the carpool lane, adding a new right-hand exit to Broadway Avenue and extra merging lanes.

Tobin said neither construction nor lane closures would occur during peak commute times, but delays are likely as the project continues.

The city of Everett hired a Seattle artist to create a theme for the freeway side of the sound wall similar to the concrete designs on I-90 through Issaquah.

The alternating concrete panels will depict water, sailboats and fish; sky, clouds and birds; and trees, mountains and leaves.

Wendy Becker, the city’s cultural coordinator, said it was important to create something unique, lasting and beautiful.

“We want people’s perception of the city to change, along with its growth, even if they’re just driving through,” Becker said.

No one, from the mayor on down, wanted the sound walls to be “fractured fin,” the rippled texture the DOT uses as standard on its freeway walls.

Noise wall options:


Random wood


A state DOT open house will be held on the noise wall project, including sound walls and anticipated traffic delays, from 3:30 to 8 p.m. Aug. 31 at the downtown Everett library, 2702 Hoyt Ave.

For more information, or to vote on a wall texture, call the DOT’s project office at 425-405-1785 or drop by the office on the fifth floor at 2802 Wetmore Ave.

Samples are also available to view online at www. HOVSR526toUS2/.

The corrugated cardboard look of fractured fin, at least in freeway beautification circles, has become like black velvet paintings to the fine arts. It’s so last decade.

Even the neighbors are getting something different.

Instead of going with the standard ripple for the back side of the sound walls, the DOT is giving Everett residents near I-5 a choice of three wall textures.

There’s “fractured granite,” which looks like a concrete tree trunk, “textured round stone,” which looks like concrete cottage cheese, and “random board,” which looks like a concrete wooden fence.

Residents in Pinehurst, who are among the first to weigh in, are particularly fond of “random board,” said neighborhood chairman Oden Olson.

“I think it’s real nice that they’re giving the people the choice on the wall,” Olson said. “It’s good for the community and definitely is a real benefit when they put it up.”

The goal of the sound walls is to reduce traffic noise, hopefully enough for residents along I-5 to have a conversation in their back yards without shouting.

“The sound walls actually reflect noise away and prevent much of the sound from reaching the homes behind them,” said Joanne Wright, a DOT acoustics expert in Seattle.

“They do not eliminate all the noise; they just reduce the noise,” she said. “You can still hear the freeway.”

The DOT tries, with sound walls, to reduce freeway noise by at least 10 decibels. While that may not sound like a lot, it is.

A sound at 65 decibels is like being 50 feet from a lawnmower.

A sound at 75 decibels is much harder to ignore – like being three feet away from a blender or vacuum cleaner.

In the back yards of most of Everett’s I-5 neighbors, traffic noise reaches into the 70s, which is “very, very noisy,” she said.

Wall designer Thad Donat, a painter who also owns an interior design firm in Seattle, said creating the walls will be like making big, heavy Jell-O molds.

Why go to all the trouble?

“Why not? You have to pour this concrete anyhow, and it doesn’t cost that much more to make it beautiful,” he said.

First-time freeway art designer Donat said it was exciting to create something that will be viewed by millions and will last for generations.

“Timeless was definitely the key word in casting concrete that will last 100 years or more,” he said. “It’s rare you get the chance to do something this large in scale and that can be an enduring (feature) for miles from here to Canada.”

Because the noise walls will be installed at different times over two years, the affected neighborhoods will vote in shifts.

Residents in the Glacier View and Pinehurst neighborhoods must vote by Aug. 15. Next comes Lowell by Sept. 15, Valley View by Sept. 30 and Riverside by Oct. 15.

The DOT is going door-to-door to homes closest to the site of the sound walls to gather their design preferences.

Talk to us

More in Local News

An example of the Malicious Women Co. products (left) vs. the Malicious Mermaid's products (right). (U.S. District Court in Florida)
Judge: Cheeky candle copycat must pay Snohomish company over $800K

The owner of the Malicious Women Co. doesn’t expect to receive any money from the Malicious Mermaid, a Florida-based copycat.

A grave marker for Blaze the horse. (Photo provided)
After Darrington woman’s horse died, she didn’t know what to do

Sidney Montooth boarded her horse Blaze. When he died, she was “a wreck” — and at a loss as to what to do with his remains.

A fatal accident the afternoon of Dec. 18 near Clinton ended with one of the cars involved bursting into flames. The driver of the fully engulfed car was outside of the vehicle by the time first responders arrived at the scene. (Whidbey News-Times/Submitted photo)
Driver sentenced in 2021 crash that killed Everett couple

Danielle Cruz, formerly of Lynnwood, gets 17½ years in prison. She was impaired by drugs when she caused the crash that killed Sharon Gamble and Kenneth Weikle.

A person walks out of the Everett Clinic on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The Everett Clinic changing name to parent company Optum in 2024

The parent company says the name change will not affect quality of care for patients in Snohomish County.

Tirhas Tesfatsion (GoFundMe) 20210727
Lynnwood settles for $1.7 million after 2021 suicide at city jail

Jail staff reportedly committed 16 safety check violations before they found Tirhas Tesfatsion, 47, unresponsive in her cell.

Nursing Administration Supervisor Susan Williams points at a list of current COVID patients at Providence Regional Medical Center on Friday, Sept. 22, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Dozens of Providence patients in medical limbo for months, even years

About 100 people are stuck in Everett hospital beds without an urgent medical reason. New laws aim for a solution.

Lynnwood man arrested, released on $25K bond after road rage shooting

Deputies arrested the suspect, 20, for investigation of first-degree assault on Tuesday.

Mt. Baker visible from the summit of Mt. Dickerman on a late summer day in 2017. (Caleb Hutton / The Herald)
Hornets pester hikers on popular Mountain Loop trails

“You cannot out run the stings,” one hiker wrote in a trip report. The Forest Service has posted alerts at two trailheads.

Emergency responders surround an ultralight airplane that crashed Friday, Sept. 22, 2023, at the Arlington Municipal Airport in Arlington, Washington, resulting in the pilot's death. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Pilot dead in ultralight plane crash at Arlington Municipal Airport

There were no other injuries or fatalities reported, a city spokesperson said.

Most Read