A 2000s highway expansion leaves Denver residents to deal with noise

'You sound like you're on the freeway'

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Mike Ridge can remember a time when Interstate 25 was only two lanes in each direction and the speed limit was 55 miles-per-hour. Those were quieter days for his neighborhood, which sits a handful of blocks south of Washington Park. He moved there when he and his wife married in 1984.

The area is separated from the highway only by Buchtel Boulevard South and a small stretch of grass just before the underpass.

But today, I-25 spans seven lanes and Ridge and his neighbors can hear the sounds of traffic whizzing by at all hours of the day, with one exception — when traffic is at a standstill during rush hour.

“I notice the noise when there’s less traffic because it’s not standstill,” said Abby Jayne, who has lived in the area for the last 2 1/2 years. “So later, toward the evenings, it’s really quite loud — and that’s when we want to open our windows in summers.”

The Colorado Department of Transportaiton (CDOT) and the Regional Transportation District (RTD) created a partnership that would eventually add more lanes to I-25 in the early 2000s as part of the construction project, Transportation Expansion, or T-REX for short. The first steps toward T-REX were taken in 1992 when the Denver Regional Council of Governments commissioned a traffic congestion study of I-25. Several more studies were done, and official planning for T-REX did not begin until 1999. The project lasted five years, from 2001-2005. T-REX added light rail services to the area, as well as traffic lanes on I-25 and Interstate 225 through Denver, Aurora, Greenwood Village, Centennial and Lone Tree. The light rail opened a few months after construction in 2006.

At the time, Ridge said, the city came to residents to ask if they wanted to install a sound wall to prevent highway noise from disturbing the neighborhood. But neighbors, including Ridge, were concerned a sound wall would block their view of the mountains to the west, or that it would block their view of South High School, which can be seen directly north of the neighborhood. Residents instead opted for trees, but Ridge said they were never planted.

He said he believes the trees were not planted because there’s no watering system or irrigation in that area.

Paul Kashmann, the city councilmember who represents this area of town, said after neighbors contacted him about the noise, he began to look into what could be done. But the process will likely be complicated, he said, because part of the area is controlled by CDOT, while other parts are controlled by the city of Denver or RTD. He said he has begun to reach out to the two other entities.

“This is a real complicated one,” he said. “I understand their concern and we’ll run down the ends until someone says there’s nothing that can be done.”

Tamara Rollison, communications manager at CDOT for the Denver area, said the department is working with the city of Denver and would allow for the construction of a soundwall. But the department is also strapped for funding, she said.

“We don’t have the funding for it and we have conveyed that to Denver. We are assisting with doing some noise testing and getting an estimate of how much the noise walls would be to install,” she said in an email. “If Denver can come up with funding, we would allow them to proceed with installation.”

Noise becomes unbearable

Cynthia Darby, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1985, said no one asked for her opinion. She would have wanted both a wall and trees. Back when she first moved into the neighborhood, there was some highway noise, but Darby said it has noticeably increased over the years.

Before she installed air conditioning in her house, Darby used to open windows in the summer, but the noise from the highway would become unbearable. Despite no longer having to rely on open windows for cool air, Darby said the sounds still interrupt her daily life, such as when loud trucks drive on the highway.

“I have been woken up in the middle of the night because of that,” she said.

Everyday tasks such as walking the dog or barbecuing in the backyard mean taking the noise head on.

“You sound like you’re on the freeway,” Darby said.

In addition to general traffic sounds, a sound wall on the north side causes the sounds to amplify and bounce toward the south side, the neighbors said. And on Sundays, the neighbors regularly hear cars racing on the highway in the wee hours of the morning.

“It wakes us up every Sunday,” said Ally Naes, who has lived on South Lafayette Street for 2 1/2 years with husband Anthony.

Safety concerns exist as well

But the noise isn’t all that residents are worried about. Buchtel has a number of safety concerns as well.

When I-25 is crowded, drivers will frequently exit onto Bucthel, which adds to the traffic, Jayne said. Drivers also speed on that road, which Ally said was a concern to her and other neighbors with small children.

“They speed because they don’t realize that children live here,” she said. “I’m scared to death of having kids or dogs out there without leashes on both of them because if one darts into the street and somebody isn’t paying attention, it’s game over.”

“People get flipped off (by drivers) for going the speed limit,” Ridge added.

Neighbors also worry about the retail value of their homes. When Darby tried to sell her home five years ago, many potential buyers said the noise was too much, she said. Ally said she also worried whether the noise would prevent her from selling her house if she wanted to move.

In addition to reaching out to Kashmann, residents have also started a petition to have something done about the noise, Anthony said.

The group of neighbors agreed that adding vegetation to the median on Buchtel or to the grass along the edge of the underpass could help with the noise, and may be a cheaper solution. Many of them also believe installing a sound wall on the south side of the highway would be worth the expense. Anthony said that would make it so he and his family could enjoy sitting out in the backyard again without turning their music up all the way.

“I also think you would see a lot more traffic from a foot perspective on that path going over to Wash Park,” he said. “I think you’d see even more folks go that way if the walk up and down Buchtel was more pleasurable.”

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