Sound wall design funds on the way

La Cañada Flintridge will solidify in the coming weeks an agreement with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that will allow the city to spend an estimated $2.8 million in Measure R funding to design 21 segments of sound wall, according to a city official.

And $250,000 in federal funds earmarked for the project by Rep. David Dreier (R-San Dimas) will cover the design costs for two more segments.

The agreement, expected to be finalized in September, is a coup for officials and residents who have spent years fighting to reduce noise pollution caused by traffic on the 210 Freeway.

"We will have those completed designs within three years," said Ann Wilson, senior management analyst with the city. "That is a huge step for the city and moves us much closer to the construction of the entire project."

Nevertheless, construction of the sound walls remains in the distant future, pending tens of millions of dollars in additional funding.

Noise pollution in La Cañada has been a concern since the 1970s when the 210 and 2 freeways were completed, bringing additional traffic to the city. Longtime residents say that Caltrans promised at the time to implement noise-mitigation measures, but city staff has not be able to find any supporting written documentation.

In 2005, the city initiated a $600,000 Noise Barrier Scope Summary Report to access noise levels, as well as the feasibility of sound walls. The study found that the volume along several sections of the freeway in La Cañada exceeds 66 decibels, the current threshold Caltrans uses to determine whether to implement noise-mitigation methods.

In order to shield residents, the study recommended the design and construction of 27 segments of sound wall along a 3.5-mile stretch on the north and south sides of the 210 Freeway. Only 23 of the segments met MTA standards, and Dreier secured $250,000 in federal funds for the project. How the city would begin to cover the rest of the $41-million tab, however, remained unclear until November 2008, when voters approved Measure R.

The measure will generate an estimated $40 billion for transportation improvements in Los Angeles County during a 30-year span. The MTA will receive 85% of that revenue, while the remaining 15% will be funneled directly to cities for local use. La Cañada will receive $10.7 million during the life of Measure R, Wilson said, $4.5 million in the first four years and $6.1 million starting in 2020.

"If you look at the amount of money just in the four-year period of time against the General Fund budget, it is something like a third of our General Fund budget," Wilson said. "It is a huge amount of money for our city and something we otherwise wouldn't have had."

Initially, MTA and Caltrans officials said Measure R funds were to be spent on highway operational improvements including ramp metering and changeable message signs along the 210 Freeway. But city staff and then-Mayor Laura Olhasso lobbied to be allowed to put the money toward the sound walls.

"Metro needed to be convinced that we didn't have any other projects that would fall into traffic mitigation, and we really worked really hard to get them to change their policies," Olhasso said.

The design of the sound wall segments will go out to bid and is expected to be completed in three years. The remainder of the initial four-year, $4.5-million Measure R allocation, $1.7 million, will be used to build one segment of the project. That segment has not yet been identified, Olhasso said.

And despite budget shortfalls in Washington, D.C., and Sacramento, La Cañada city staff will continue to aggressively pursue additional funding in order to move forward with the construction phase, Wilson said. Completed designs of the wall segments do not have expiration dates, she added.

"We still have the bulk of the cost to go, but again it is much easier when you have the design down," Wilson said. "And also, even if we have to wait for funding, we will be years ahead on this project."

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