Freeway noise issues

Interstate 5 and its interchange with SR-520 (opened in 1962) destroyed or compartmentalized treasured parts of our neighborhood. And as environmental laws didn’t exist then, these freeways were built in a way that produces much higher noise levels than would be allowed for construction under the current laws. As a result, some Eastlake businesses, residences, streets, and parks have the worst noise levels in the state.

Since the Eastlake Community Council’s founding in 1971, we have worked with a long succession of Washington State Dept. of Transportation officials and 43rd district legislators toward placing this problem high on WSDOT’s priority list and getting the funds through the legislature to retrofit this section of I-5 for noise reduction. This joint effort led to the present I-5 noise walls on parts of Boylston Ave., but until recently WSDOT had no plans for completing them (once among its highest priorities for noise reduction), and had no backup plan after the failure of its test of noise insulation on the I-5 Ship Canal bridge. The legislators and WSDOT responded to neighborhood concerns, and the 2015 legislators funded completion of the noised walls, although little progress has been made on noise from the bridge itself. Here are both stories.

Structural noise-reduction measures on the metal I-5 Ship Canal Bridge are problematic because the bridge can’t support heavy additions, and even light ones could catch the wind, potentially damaging the bridge. As discussed above and in the Spring 2014 issue of the Eastlake News (see newsletter archive in menu at top of page), ECC has taken the initiative to get WSDOT and the legislators talking about noise-reducing operational changes in traffic across the bridge.

In 2012 and 2013, ECC sponsored public meetings about noise issues with our state legislators and WSDOT; ECC also wrote to these officials and encouraged others to do so. In response, our 43rd district state legislators on Oct. 24, 2013 wrote to the Washington State Department of Transportation, urging resumption of the noise walls effort and the consideration of traffic operations changes on the bridge if structural noise-reduction measures prove infeasible. To see their letter, click here. Susbsequently, ECC wrote a Feb. 12, 2014 letter to WSDOT and a Feb. 14 e-mail to our legislators.

In short, the noise walls built so far have dramatically reduced noise, but they don’t extend north even to Hamlin Street. Citing a fragile City water main and the need for electrical ventilation, WSDOT had dropped the noise wall extension far down on its priority list, with no funding requested or received for years. ECC would not take no for an answer, and our 43rd district legislators and WSDOT listened. With Sen. Jamie Pedersen taking the lead, they turned this situation around in 2014, as can be seen by clicking on the following e-mail exchange and WSDOT study.

WSDOT has now found noise wall technology that won’t harm the water main or require ventilation. The long-delayed completion of the noise walls for the two blocks on the west side of I-5 north to Allison Street became a priority of WSDOT and Governor Jay Inslee, with an estimated cost of $3.5 million. Sen. Jamie Pedersen and his House colleagues then succeeded in passing through the legislature the needed $3.5 million. They (especially Sen. Pedersen), the Governor, and WSDOT deserve the neighborhood’s deep gratitude. If you write to them, please also send a copy to ECC at info@eastlakeseattle.org.

Eastlake’s first freeway noise walls were delayed for several years by a 1999 statewide initiative and public vote that lowered the price of car tab fees in the state of Washington to $30. After the state legislature had allowed car tab fees to increase again, another statewide initiative and public vote, this one in 2019, again lowered the car tab bees to $20. It remains to be seen whether the 2019 initiative result will cause further delays in the completion of Eastlake’s freeway noise walls.

The neighborhood appreciates very much that Sen Pedersen is working to ensure that Eastlake’s noise walls are completed. The Eastlake Community Council will work with Sen Pedersen and WSDOT to ensure early and continuous public involvement in planning and design of the noise walls.

A major piece of unfinished business is for the state to address operational changes in the I-5 express lanes to reduce noise as discussed above.