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Sound Wall Sought : Guardrail Planned at Site Where Truck Hit Houses

Times Staff Writer

The state Department of Transportation has agreed to put a guardrail along a stretch of the Hollywood Freeway in North Hollywood across from where a tractor-trailer truck crashed into two houses earlier this year, an official said Monday.

However, Stephen Pang, senior transportation engineer, said a 30-inch guard rail would not have held back the large truck that barreled down an embankment and into the houses Jan. 31.

“It might have slowed it down a little, maybe . . . nothing is strong enough to stop a semi-truck,” Pang said. “A medium or small truck, yes, it would stop it.”

North Hollywood residents, who have begged for a sound wall at that location for years, consider the rail a partial victory. But they still want a wall.

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“The guard rail is better than nothing, but the sound wall is a lot better . . . a lot sturdier,” said Lydia Manansala, whose house at 7851 Babcock Ave. sustained $30,000 damage in the crash. She said the family will be able to move back into the house in about two weeks. The damage is being paid for by insurance companies.

However, Caltrans engineers have said a sound wall probably would not have stopped the truck either.

Awoke to Shaking

Shortly after 10 p.m. on Jan. 31, the Manansalas awoke to noise and shaking that they thought was an earthquake. When they investigated, they found a truck cab in the middle of their kitchen.

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The truck driver, who was carrying a load of hazardous asbestos, disappeared from the scene of the accident but surrendered to authorities three days later. He had a record of driving under the influence, and his driver’s license had expired.

After the accident, Caltrans engineers expressed concern about installing a guard rail because they said rails sometimes lead to serious traffic accidents. But Pang said the engineers determined that the potential danger to those who live next to the freeway outweighs those concerns.

“It’s a matter of . . . whether you want to take the risk people will hit the guard rail and ricochet back into traffic or hit it at a certain angle so to cause more injury to the driver,” he said.

The guard rail will stretch 1,500 feet south from the Strathern Street underpass, Pang said, and should be completed by the end of the year. It will cost about $35,000, he said. A 1,500-foot sound wall would cost about $400,000, he said.

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Dispute Over Wall

Sound walls are usually built by Caltrans. But the state maintains that it would be up to the city of Los Angeles to build a sound wall along the section of freeway where the accident occurred because the nearest houses on Babcock Avenue were built after the freeway opened in 1968. The city, however, says all sound walls are the state’s responsibility.

“The tail chase keeps going on,” said Bob Brice, a resident of Babcock Avenue and leader of the sound-wall fight. “We still don’t know who’s responsible for a sound wall--I think we have a right to know that at least. And if it is the city, why are they ignoring us?”

Caltrans has agreed to send inspectors to the neighborhood Wednesday to take sound readings on the east side of Babcock Avenue, where houses predate the freeway. However, Brice said he fears that the full impact of freeway noise will not be reflected in the test because the newer houses on the west side of the street, where the accident occurred, will act as a buffer.

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