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.
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.
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:
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. wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/I5/ 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.