Jacksonville, FL (December 5, 2019) – Construction on frequently used highways I-295 East and J. Turner Butler has been, and continues to be, a popular topic of discussion, not only for Jacksonville residents, but commuters throughout the State of Florida. As plans for the interstate grew, so did the conversation between neighbors who live along I-295 East thru District 11. Since the I-295 East Express Lane project began, Councilman Becton has received numerous concerns as to the implementation of sound walls through the area of Baymeadows, and they became louder and more frequent, when the Express Lanes expansion was finalized, specifically vocalizing the lack of sound walls to cover the complete area of the Twin Lakes Elementary school and some adjacent neighborhoods.
“I have been discussing the sound wall issue with FDOT for several years,” Councilmember Becton said. “Unfortunately, due to the initial phase of this project having been studied and finalized and public meetings held, the current build out of sound walls was not enough for some constituents satisfaction. This was unfortunate in that it became contentious among stakeholders that FDOT was not being responsive.”
FDOT announced in December that the department was expanding the I-295 East project, adding additional general use lanes, “free lanes”, to go through that area. This expansion announcement meant more than just additional lanes. Councilman Becton knew it was in fact an opportunity to also solve the noise issue residents are experiencing. Having known that when FDOT looks to modify a roadway they are also allowed to consider additional projects, such as sound walls, and Councilman Becton quickly jumped on this opportunity.
“Immediately after hearing the news that FDOT was modifying the I-295 project again, I knew this was an opportunity to ask FDOT to look at the sound wall issue again,” Councilman Becton said. “In conversation with FDOT leadership, they agreed, and at the public hearing December, FDOT displayed and proposed an expansion of the existing wall in front of the elementary school, but also added sound walls to the southern part which would shield the neighborhood of Reedy Branch as well.”
After many back and forth discussions between neighbors and Florida Department of Transportation and efforting many potential solutions, the department announced to the Councilman that they may have a plan to decrease the volume of noise from the increase of traffic and construction. The plan was reviewed at a FDOT District II public hearing on December 5th, which was primarily held to inform residents on the proposed improvements on I-295 East from 9B to JTB.
The public hearing handout read, “The Department is also evaluating the feasibility of adding/extending noise barriers in the project area, along with a few additional minor improvements.” The event was held at the University of North Florida’s Adam W. Herbert University Center at 4:30pm and provided an opportunity for residents to review the exhibits and have one-on-one discussions with FDOT staff, followed by a formal presentation at 6:30 pm and public comment session.
A month prior to the meeting in November, FDOT said they have “completed construction for three of the four noise barrier segments during construction of this design build project” and a fourth is still under construction at Town Center Parkway. “Based on the design change that adds additional widening for general use lanes both northbound and southbound further noise impacts were analyzed, and the analysis indicate five new segments of noise barriers (8 total) meet the cost feasible and reasonable abatement criteria.”
“This conclusion by FDOT to expand the sound wall barriers through Baymeadows is a satisfying and appreciated accomplishment that I feel is helped by the great relationship that I have and have always had with FDOT leadership thru the years”, Councilmember Becton expressed. “Having the relationship and prior experience with transportation officials throughout our region as a citizen prior to public service, has been priceless since the majority of our roads in District 11 are state roads, not city.” Councilmember Becton continued.
Further constructability review, funding availability and public input will be evaluated to determine the location/length and proposed construction of any additional noise barriers that meet the reasonable and cost feasible abatement criteria.” Documents of the total of 8 sound barriers and the rest of FDOT’s improvement were on display at the public hearing and available at the FDOT Jacksonville Urban Office and the Southeast Regional Library.
One of the site plans provided by the department pinpoints the following locations for the potential:
- 22’ Barrier at SUR/Tidal Pointe
- 22’ Barrier at Village Walk (North end)
- Two 14’ Barriers at Village Walk (South end)
- 22’Barrier at Pointe Meadows
- Two 14’ Barriers at Cabana Club Apartments
“It has been communicated to me from FDOT officials that it is important now for the community to show support of these sound wall proposals. A survey will be sent to property owners in the area and they must support these sound walls for them to be finalized,” Councilman Becton said. “Stakeholders who have been past advocates of concern must now make sure that there are no ‘squeaky wheels’ that pops up and objects to these proposals.”
According to an Environmental Revaluation report provided by FDOT, “a Noise Study (NSRA #3) was completed for this reevaluation to analyze and evaluate changes in noise impacts from the proposed design changes. Three of the four Final Design noise barrier segments, impacted by the design change, were reevaluated in NSRA #3 and continue to meet the criteria to provide abatement for noise impacts. Three special-use barriers were also reevaluated in NSRA #3 and do not meet the FDOT Special Use Matrix cost criteria, therefore do not require further consideration. In addition to the four Final Design noise barrier segments advanced from the previous studies, five new noise barrier segments (sets of barriers) were identified in NSRA #3 which meet FDOT’s feasibility and reasonableness criteria to mitigate for traffic noise impacts from the project.”
Included in the report, FDOT wrote, “As a result of the public hearing, environmental and engineering studies, and inter-agency coordination, the preferred alternative for Location and Concept Acceptance is the Build Alternative (Ultimate Phase)”.
FDOT is committed to the construction of feasible and reasonable noise abatement measures contingent upon the following:
Detailed noise analyses during the final design process supports the need, feasibility and reasonableness of providing abatement;
Cost analysis indicates that the cost of the noise barrier(s) will not exceed the cost reasonable criterion;
Community input supporting types, heights, and locations of the noise barrier(s) is provided to the District Office; and
Safety and engineering aspects as related to the roadway user and the adjacent property owner have been reviewed and any conflicts or issues resolved.
Any other mitigating circumstances revealed during the final design have been analyzed and resolved.
The I-295 East Express Lanes project from 9B to JTB began in 2016 and was awarded to the Archer-Western Contractors design-build team. The $160 million project is expected to be completed in late 2020, weather and unforeseen circumstances permitting.