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Dear Mahatma: Am I the only one who thinks the new Interstate 630 sound wall between Hughes Street and John Barrow Road is ugly? I have a couple of names for this new monstrosity. It's either a shipping container wall or a border wall. Street artists, I'm sure, are salivating over it. -- Jean

Dear Jean: Your faithful correspondent drove past this and the other sound barrier walls -- and through the construction zone widening I-630 from Big Baptist Hospital to University Avenue -- and found them to be, um, large.

But our expertise in sound walls is minimal, except for driving past one on the way to the golf course.

On your behalf, and on behalf of street artists everywhere, we asked numerous questions of the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Answers came from the Environmental Division, and from Keli Wylie, the agency's alternate project delivery administrator.

Does the state Department of Transportation poll affected neighbors about sound walls?

Yes, and a majority of property owners and residents must agree to the wall. In this case, the wall had 71% support.

What are the dimensions, materials and cost?

Total length of all the noise barriers on the project is about 5,500 feet, with an average height of 16 feet. Total square footage is about 83,000. Barriers are made from UV-resistant PVC. Total cost for the barriers is about $3.1 million.

How effective are such walls? Folks who blanch at engineering details should avert their eyes. Others may forge on.

The walls have two functions. They block and absorb sound. On the former, these walls have a sound transmission rating of 32; The Transportation Department requires a minimum of 30. On the latter, the walls have a noise reduction coefficient rating of 0.95, where 0 absorbs no sound waves and 1 means all of the sound waves are absorbed.

(A coefficient is a factor that measures some property. We learned this in physics. Physics is why we never grew up to become a rocket scientist.)

What about street artists and their graffiti?

The material from which the sound barrier walls are made is advertised as resistant to graffiti. The state highway agency will remove graffiti as needed.

Footnote: In our opinion, street artist is a euphemism for vandalism.

Footnote: This project, the widening of 2.2 miles of I-630, is scheduled to be completed in early 2020, which will make everyone happy. Work began in 2018. Cost of the project is $87.4 million.

On another matter, into our hands has fallen the annual news release by the Transportation Department regarding political signs on highway rights of way.

Bottom line: No.

Only official signs are permitted on state-owned property. Small signs will be removed. Owners of larger billboard-style signs will be notified and given the chance to remove them before the state does. Signs can be picked up during normal business hours at the nearest Transportation Department maintenance office.

Metro on 02/01/2020


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