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Duke Behnke's Watchdog Q&A: Explaining sound barrier decision on U.S. 41 in Neenah

8:24 PM, Nov. 2, 2013  |  Comments
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Q What would be the process to have a sound barrier put up along the west side of U.S. 41 in Neenah? I live near the high school, and since the expansion of the highway, the noise level in the neighborhood has increased dramatically. I heard a rumor that a sound barrier was not put up because Dairy Queen didn't want it. Is that true?

A The Wisconsin Department of Transportation constructs noise barriers only as part of highway improvement projects, so there is little you can do now to buffer the traffic noise coming from U.S. 41 south of Gay Drive, where Dairy Queen is located.

That stretch of highway wasn't involved in the most recent U.S. 41 expansion project, which ran between Breezewood Lane in Neenah and State 26 in Oshkosh, so no consideration was given to noise barriers.

The area was involved in the U.S. 41 expansion project that occurred in mid-1990s, and a noise barrier was built for the residential neighborhood north of Gay, but no barrier was built for the area to the south, which has mostly businesses along the highway.

DOT spokesman Kim Rudat said public meetings were held to evaluate support for noise barriers at the time. He didn't know whether Dairy Queen specifically expressed an opinion, but he recalled the general sentiment.

"I know that businesses in the area were opposed to extending the barrier in front of their buildings due to the loss of visibility from passing cars," he said.

A vote of support from affected landowners and residents is one step in the process to determine whether a noise barrier is warranted. The DOT also evaluates specific criteria, like whether future traffic noise would exceed existing levels by 15 decibels or more, and whether the cost is reasonable for the benefit.

Depending on how close your home is to the highway - Neenah High School is about 2,500 feet away - a noise barrier might not provide the relief you desire. According to a DOT publication, the benefit of a noise barrier "decreases as a listener moves farther away from the barrier and is negligible at distances greater than 500 feet."

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