Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated 5:16 p.m. 02/21/13
The disagreement over wall maintenance has been resolved, County Councilman Jay Byars reported.
After the involvement of Rep. Chris Murphy and Sen. Sean Bennett, S.C. DOT has agreed to grant a waiver and apply the old criteria, under which the neighborhood would qualify for a wall and DOT would maintain it, he said.
Wall of Sound
Local and state authorities are arguing over who should take on the maintenance costs of a noise abatement wall while the residents of a small neighborhood along Bacons Bridge Road simply hope for some relief.
When planners held public meetings in 2009 about the widening of Bacons Bridge Road, a noise abatement wall was included in the plans.
The wall didn't generate public comment, however, apparently because it appeared to be a done deal, so state and federal authorities decided there was no public support for the wall and removed it from the project.
Four years later, construction is beginning on the road and there's no wall planned to protect residents of Summerville on the Ashley from the noise.
The Dorchester County Sales Tax Transportation Authority recently voted unanimously to use money in the budget for contingencies to build the wall.
Someone must commit to maintaining the wall once built, however, and Tuesday evening County Council was reluctant to take on that responsibility.
Jennifer Armenti pleaded with council on behalf of her neighbors, saying her neighborhood is small, without a homeowner's association, and populated with nurses, teachers and firefighters rather than doctors and county council members.
Once the community learned the wall had been removed from plans, she and her neighbors gathered signatures in 2010 to show public support, she said, to no avail.
Donnie Dukes, senior vice president at Davis & Floyd, told council the criteria for noise walls changed between the initial plans of 2009 and the time planners returned to S.C. DOT and the Federal Highway Administration.
If Davis & Floyd were to run the analysis now, he said, the road wouldn't qualify for a noise wall.
Instead, the firm was told the wall could be built and maintained with local money, though it would be placed on the state right-of-way.
The sales tax authority agreed to cover the $300,000 cost for a 900-foot long, eight-foot tall wall.
But the authority ceases to exist once its road projects are complete, Dukes said, so it cannot agree to maintain the wall.
Council members didn't want the wall either.
“Why would we want to own a wall?” Councilman Larry Hargett said.
If a vehicle were to run into it, the county would have to pay to replace it, he said.
S.C. DOT will maintain the wall on Dorchester Road, Councilman Jay Byars said, but wants the county to cover for a decision someone else made on the Bacons Bridge Road wall.
“It sounds like DOT has changed the rules of the game in the middle of the process,” he said.
Councilman David Chinnis was concerned the engineers weren't following up on a less-expensive alternative discussed a year ago.
A company in Laurens manufactures a wall of extruded fiberglass that's filled with ground up tires, and it costs 30 percent less than the typical concrete wall, Chinnis said.
At the time the county looked at that option, he said, it hadn't been approved for use in South Carolina, but S.C. DOT was supposed to look into it.
Chinnis said Wednesday he was skeptical that the wall wouldn't be allowed under the present rules. If one of the engineers were living in that neighborhood, he said, he's certain a loophole would be found to get the wall built.
Dukes said Wednesday the sales tax authority agrees the neighborhood should have the wall.
“That's why DCTA is willing to go the extra step,” he said.
Whether the wall would have been included if DCTA had protested as soon as it was removed from the plans is hard to say, Dukes said.
Getting through the approval process is such an ordeal that designers simply accepted the plans, he said.
“We got the green light and we just took it,” he said.
Ultimately council voted to defer a decision for 60 days while it attempts to persuade the state to take on maintenance responsibilities.