On Your Side: Sound wall built to protect homes that don't exist
As sound walls go, the new one on the south end of the Carson City freeway is impressive. It stretches for roughly half a mile and is decorated with artwork to make it aesthetically pleasing.
Construction costs came in just shy of $1 million. The wall borders the southern stretch of the new freeway on one side, and acres of dirt and sagebrush on the other side.
"I've never seen a wall extend that far with absolutely nothing that it's protecting," said Carson City resident Gary Kolb. "I mean, if you look over there, there's nothing there."
Kolb lives on the north side of the freeway, and he wonders why the south side sound wall was built where it is, with no homes nearby.
"Just weeds and the prison," he noted. "And I don't think it bothers those guys," he said with a laugh.
But the south side wall is no laughing matter for residents like Kolb who live on the north side of the freeway. They say the wall actually increases the noise levels in their neighborhood because the traffic noise bounces off the south wall and back toward them.
Meg Ragonese, spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Transportation, says NDOT built the south side wall out of consideration for the Washoe Tribe, which owns the land next to the freeway.
"Minority populations are protected," Ragonese told News 4. "That includes tribal land on the southern side of the freeway."
NDOT later revealed to us that it built the wall on the south side of the freeway because the Washoe Tribe had plans for high-density housing on that land. But whether those plans will ever materialize is unclear.
NDOT says the housing development was part of the Tribe's master plan back in 1994. That was 24 years ago.
Tribal officials now admit to News 4 there are no plans for any new development in that area anytime soon.
That means the sound wall is not really protecting anyone from traffic noise on that side of the freeway and won't for some time.
It is worth noting that federal regulations state that noise abatement measures, like sound walls, will not be considered for lands that are not permitted for construction.
But that south side wall went up anyway, even though there was never any permit for development.
NDOT says when tribal lands are involved, the federal mandate for a building permit does not apply. In fact, Ragonese says all it takes is a general plan to require NDOT to include sound mitigation for any project when tribal lands are involved.
It's frustrating for those like Buffy Ford who live on the north side of the freeway, where another sound wall ends abruptly right in front of several homes, including hers.
"We hear the jake (engine) brakes," she told us.
The state says sound readings in Ford's neighborhood fall just short of what is required to extend that wall any further.
NDOT and the federal government refer to it as environmental justice: a federal mandate designed to ensure public projects like roads and freeways do not have a negative impact on minority or low-income populations.
But neighbors on the north side of the freeway say what they want is justice for all. They would also like some answers from those in charge.
"I would just like to see more response from the governor's office other than a form letter," said Gary Kolb. "Maybe look at it and see what can be done."
News 4 did reach out to ask if Gov. Brian Sandoval has any concerns about that wall being built where it is at taxpayer expense. The governor's staff did not respond.
In the meantime, NDOT says it will continue to monitor noise levels in that neighborhood on the north side of the freeway periodically in case there is a change that would warrant a sound wall or other measures.