Mesa and Chandler officials said Arizona Department of Transportation officials didn’t tell the public it would build shorter sound walls when it made a deal with federal officials to pave freeways with rubberized asphalt.
Though ADOT insists it went public with the change, city officials said the agency was slow to get word out and that city officials didn’t agree they would accept the new plan for shorter walls.
"It was never part of that original understanding," said Jim Phipps, a Chandler streets spokesman. "We’ve been telling them that’s not something we will find acceptable and neither will our residents."
The sound wall plan angered residents and politicians in Chandler, where ADOT officials held a meeting Tuesday, just weeks before construction on another segment of Loop 202.
The agency has for years planned sound walls of up to 20 feet, but it has now dropped them to 14 feet. The most contentious issue is ADOT will not extend that taller wall to a quarter-mile section on the south side of the freeway, just east of Alma School, that now has an eight-foot tall wall.
Chandler officials said ADOT signed contracts with homeowners to rebuild that wall.
"They have been promised in writing that they would get certain sound walls and now to propose a change is not a good idea," said Chandler Councilman Phill Westbrooks.
ADOT changed the wall design after the December announcement that it would use rubberized asphalt on freeways to muffle the roar of freeway traffic.
Arizona is one of two states in a test program where the Federal Highway Administration has allowed rubberized asphalt to be considered in noise reduction plans.
ADOT director Victor Mendez said the agency told local governments that the pavement would result in lower walls.
"Those issues have been discussed in public, at various MAG meetings, " Mendez said, referring to the Maricopa Association of Governments.
But Phipps and Mesa Councilman Rex Griswold said the agency should have involved people who live by freeways in its planning.
"They just sort of did things in people’s communities without consulting them," Griswold said.
Since Tuesday’s Chandler meeting, public and political pressure have caused ADOT to rethink the lower walls.
The agency will recheck its noise studies to ensure lower walls are adequate and will discuss the results at a July 24 Chandler City Council meeting.
The agency will ensure noise along the freeways is at or below the agency’s standard of 64 decibels, Mendez said, even if that means building higher walls. Sixtyfour decibels is the sound of normal conversation, ADOT officials said.