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Legislature Approves Bill to Encourage Sound Walls

August 14, 1986|DARYL KELLEY | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — A bill that its author says could speed construction of freeway sound walls has been approved by the Legislature and forwarded to Gov. George Deukmejian.

But state and local officials say the bill is unlikely to provide substantial relief to cities whose sound-wall projects are far down on the state's priority list for funding.

The bill, by Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach), would encourage local governments to build their own sound walls by guaranteeing that their projects will retain their position on the priority list.

Local governments are already guaranteed reimbursement by the state for sound wall construction if the projects they fund ever reach the top of the list. But for a variety of reasons some projects have moved down the list while others have moved up.

Artesia Freeway Wall

Elder said the bill is intended to prompt the City of Long Beach to build a 1.5-mile wall along the Artesia Freeway in North Long Beach well before the state expects to have money for that project.

"This gives the cities the certainty (of reimbursement) they need," said Elder, who for years has been pressured for sound walls by North Long Beach constituents.

Elder estimated that it would take between five and eight years for the city to receive about $3 million to reimburse the cost of the North Long Beach project.

But a state Department of Transportation spokesman said that at current sound-wall funding levels of about $5.5 million a year statewide, it would be about 25 years before the city would be reimbursed.

The North Long Beach project ranks 86th out of 221 on the state's list, and reimbursement would not come until it reaches the top of the list, Caltrans spokesman Gene Berthelsen said.

Elder Criticizes Measure

Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell said the Elder measure does nothing for local residents living near freeways because the city does not have enough money to build sound walls.

Sound walls, which cost about $1 million a mile, are needed along several stretches of three freeways in Long Beach, not just the North Long Beach section in Elder's district, Kell said.

"I don't think this is the answer to the problem," Kell said. "Dave Elder should be carrying legislation that would require the state, not the city, to fund sound walls. That's the legislation that's really needed."

Elder said, however, that state and federal funds for walls are drying up. And his bill should encourage local governments to build sound walls in neighborhoods that are far down on the state priority list, he said.

But even under Elder's bill, reimbursements are not absolutely assured for projects that are not on the state's five-year list of active projects. Only the top 10 projects, with total costs of $16.6 million, are on that list, Berthelsen said. No funding is guaranteed after the 1988-89 fiscal year.

Sound walls are rated low among Caltrans priorities, behind such items as road maintenance and construction and safety improvements. Funding for the five-year active list has dropped from $48 million in 1984 to the current $16.6 million, according to Berthelsen and state documents.

Two Long Beach projects, however, are funded and construction is expected to begin within a year. The first project will be along the San Diego Freeway, between Atherton and Stearns streets, and will cost $1.6 million. The second is along the San Gabriel River Freeway, between Spring and Fairton streets, and will cost $3.6 million.

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