Barriers Unite Neighbors

Times Staff Writer

For years -- going on a decade, in fact -- folks like Kathy Wright have tried to get some relief from the pounding, vibrating noise of the trains whooshing past their Anaheim backyards.To make sure nobody could fail to appreciate the sensory experience, Wright would carry a tape recorder so city officials could hear the rattle of the passing trains.

A few days ago, she retired her tape recorder.

Yorba Linda and Anaheim have tentatively agreed that a sound-absorbing wall should be built along the tracks.

The agreement would end years of debate, during which Yorba Linda sued to stop Anaheim from building the wall. Anaheim residents wanted to block out the noise, but their counterparts in Yorba Linda feared the barrier would be an eyesore.

"I'm ecstatic," said Wright, who, in her giddiness, played a final "midnight express" demo when the Yorba Linda City Council agreed to the wall.

"Now we can move forward and our quality of life can improve," she said.

Anaheim expects to begin the $12-million project in September. The wall will stretch 2 1/2 miles between Imperial Canyon and Weir Canyon Road on the south side of the tracks, rising an average of 16 feet above the tracks.

In exchange for allowing the sound wall, Yorba Linda will get its own noise barrier on the opposite side of the tracks -- a mound of dirt topped with a wall and leafy trees to mask it -- at a cost of $1.8 million.

Each city will contribute $600,000 toward the project additions that benefit Yorba Linda, and hope a federal grant will make up the rest, said Yorba Linda City Manager Terrence Belanger.

Until the sound wall goes up, Anaheim residents living near the tracks will continue pumping the volume up on their radios and televisions and shutting their windows, even in summer months.

"Sometimes we get to the end of a program where something suspenseful is happening and then a train comes by," said Glenda Bridges, a 27-year resident whose house backs up to the tracks.

When her family moved to the neighborhood, Bridges said about 10 trains would roll by on a busy day. An additional track has been added and about 65 trains a day now rumble past.

Anaheim did not get involved until frustrated trackside residents lobbied their congressman and secured a $12-million federal grant for a sound wall. The city found a design, ran sound tests and was preparing to break ground on the project.

Those plans were put aside when Yorba Linda sued, arguing that the metal structure would not only look ugly, but would bounce noise into Yorba Linda, said Jim L. Smith, director of Yorba Linda Public Works.

"A wall of that magnitude is very gawky, very gaudy," said Smith, who worried about the wall's consequences. What would it look like? Would it reflect noise?

After Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle took office last year, he resolved to settle the issue. Negotiations began in November.

City officials tout the resolution as an example of what public agencies can accomplish when they talk through their differences.

But after years of bracing themselves every time a train rolls by, and watching frustrated neighbors relocate, some residents are skeptical.

"When they break ground," said trackside resident Laura Jansen, "I want to go see it with my own eyes."

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