The Arizona Department of Transportation is trying to arrange noise readings along a contentious segment of the new Congressman Ed Pastor Freeway after Promontory residents reminded a department official the tests were promised soon rather than later.
Residents of Promontory – one of Ahwatukee’s newest subdivisions located in the far western end of the community – have been fighting for months with ADOT over its decision to not extend the freeway sound wall far enough west of their homes.
Some residents have accused freeway design-builders Connect202Partners of reneging on their initial sound wall design to save money and improve their profit margin since Connect202’s $1.7 billion contract was a fixed price.
ADOT has asserted that a longer sound wall isn’t needed because its sound tests indicated that freeway noise would be below the 64dB threshold that would prompt the agency to undertake additional sound mitigation.
But residents say their own sound readings have shown that since the freeway opened, noise levels have already exceeded the sound threshold.
Residents in Promontory – as in other parts of Ahwatukee nearest the freeway – also are complaining about the glare from the freeway lights and it is now unclear what the agency’s timeline is for addressing that issue.
In a series of email exchanges with Promontory residents on Dec. 31, an ADOT community liaison indicated the light problem may not be addressed very soon.
Kimberly Noetzel, assistant communications director for community relations at ADOT, also had initially said new noise tests would not be undertaken until summer.
Noetzel in one email Dec. 31 told residents the glare issue “will take some time to resolve as we balance the need to address your concerns with our requirement to provide lighting mandated by state and federal design standards for safe nighttime driving on an urban freeway.”
While all three members of the Legislative District 18 delegation have all said ADOT at a September meeting promised to install light shields, Noetzel said the agency was still evaluating what to do.
Advising residents that “there is not one simple, or quick, solution,” she said options included shields, “tilting the light fixtures and adjusting the color temperature of the LED lights.”
“Our project team is measuring light levels and the dispersion of light from fixtures near residential areas during overnight hours. This data will help us determine how best to mitigate the impacts of lighting in specific areas vs. implementing one corridor-wide solution that might work well for some, but not others,” Noetzel wrote.
She also advised residents that even with some light mitigation, “you might still be impacted.”
“There is no specific timetable for when this effort will be complete,” she added. “We know this matter is important to you and we are treating it as a priority.”
In an exchange the same day, Noetzel and Promontory residents also sparred over when noise readings would be taken.
“At this time, ADOT does not plan to extend or otherwise modify the existing sound wall near the Promontory community,” Noetzel wrote. “However, we will hold true to our commitment of conducting additional noise studies after the South Mountain Freeway is fully operational later this summer.”
“I acknowledge that this information might not be the news you want to hear,” she added, assuring them that she sympathized with their concerns but that “there is nothing else for me to add about our noise abatement policy or our decision regarding the sound wall.”
Residents then provided notes to the Sept. 30 meeting that included Sen. Sean Bowie and Reps. Mitzi Epstein and Jennifer Jermaine.
Those minutes show ADOT said it would conduct the new sound tests whenever the residents wanted, assuming the two groups could work out a timetable.
Later on Dec. 31, Noetzel wrote residents, “We will arrange to do the noise tests now as the meeting notes indicate. I need to check on the availability of the noise expert, which could be difficult since this is a holiday week, but we’ll get this taken care of as soon as we can.”
Last week ADOT began conferring with the residents on times and locations for the new sound readings.
That pleased Bowie, who wrote the residents that he, Epstein and Johnson want to remain current on the new sound readings.
“As I have stated to ADOT and Connect 202 *several* times,” Bowie wrote, “it is very important for the three of us that our constituents in Promontory have a resolution here in line with what was promised last year.”
Bowie also began making arrangements with Stephen Whalley, one of the Promontory residents, to come by at night to check out both the freeway noise and light glare.
It’s unclear what will happen if the new readings bear out the residents’ complaints.
The Sept. 30 meeting minutes showed that residents pressed ADOT officials on what it would do if noise exceeded the threshold.
The minutes said ADOT Senior Deputy State Engineer Rob Samour told them, “ADOT would not be able to provide a timeline because the additional mitigation would have to be identified and programmed into ADOT’s five-year plan.”
The minutes then end with an unattributed statement declaring: “ADOT’s commitment is to come out after the freeway opens to take readings,”