Council approves noise barrier wall

Published 1:16 pm Tuesday, May 2, 2023

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The Austin City Council Monday night, by a slim margin, passed a motion that gave the go-ahead for a noise barrier to be built along Interstate 90.

The motion passed by a vote of 4-3 with council members Geoff Baker, Jeff Austin, Jason Baskin and Joyce Poshusta voting in favor of the wall.

Mike Postma, Laura Helle and Paul Fischer voted against.

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The wall, which comes with an estimated $932,000 price tag, will be built along I-90 between Second Street and 14th Place NW and will be paid for through a 90-5-5 plan.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation will pay for a vast majority of the wall at 90% with the city kicking in 5% and a core group of 11 property owners that will benefit the most paying the other 5%.

A letter earlier this year was sent to a group of over 20 property owners along the proposed placement of the barrier that outlined a number of options to pay for the wall.

During a meeting on April 17, the council approved during a work session one of the options to explore further and called for an incremental payment structure for homeowners based on homes who would benefit the most by decibel lowering. For example, homes that would see a higher decibel lowering after the wall is built would pay more and those on the lower end would pay less.

Another letter was sent out to the 11 property owners that fit the option with council members requesting at least seven “yes” returns before the wall would be considered.

City Engineer Steven Lang said Monday night that of the 11 letters sent out, seven came back as yes, three as no and one did not return the letter.

Austin Director of Administrative Services Tom Dankert said Austin’s share of the payment will likely be added to next year’s tax levy to ensure the money is in place.

In voting yes, Baskin said that his vote came from several areas that made sense for the plan including the fact that it would be a part of MnDOT’s bridge project in Austin, data supporting the need for a noise wall and the fact that the state was funding 90% of the project.

However, Postma felt that that plan helps too few homes to warrant the city paying for any part of it.

Helle also brought up the specter of doing this all over again when other neighborhoods bordering the interstate potentially come forward.

“Are we prepared to offer this same deal?” she asked.

Lang confirmed that possibility

“Early on we proposed a couple other neighborhoods that were similar,” he said, pointing out some properties were at the same level as the interstate but also added that still others rested either below or above the interstate thereby decreasing noise levels naturally.

One of the key points of earlier discussions rested on whether or not the barrier would increase or decrease property levels. That discussion was touched on again Monday night, however Baker pointed out there is a much more base reason behind approving the project.

“I don’t really think we should consider the values of the property,” he said. “We’re here to help the people. I think this is a good deal. A fair deal.”

Construction is expected to take place in 2026 toward the end of MnDOT’s bridge project, which will see the replacement of six bridges along I-90 in Austin.

In other news:

  • The council honored longtime Austin Public Library library assistant Alice Hanson on her retirement after 31 years.
  • The council also recognized the promotion of Austin firefighter Josh Kunze to commander and Matt Wyse to full time.

“It’s absolutely an honor and privilege to stand before you guys,” Kunze said. “It’s just a pleasure and I look forward to serving my community.”

“This marks my transition from part time to full time,” Wyse said. “It’s been a long road getting here. I look forward to many years giving back to the community.”