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[whitespace] Highway 85's noise becomes a topic again at transit meetings

Saratoga--Since the Valley Transportation Authority and county Board of Supervisors began refining plans to spend money on transportation improvements from Measures A and B May 19, a familiar tune is being heard from West Valley cities, including Campbell, Saratoga, Cupertino, Monte Sereno and Los Gatos.

The cities are pressuring the county again to look into creating a noise abatement test corridor on Highway 85. The highway is the source of much noise--not only from traffic, but from citizens who've had something to say about it ever since the highway was built.

At the first joint meeting in the county's chambers May 19, Monte Sereno Mayor Jack Lucas, who also serves as the West Valley cities' representative to the VTA board, made another pitch at getting some of the money so the county can take another look at creating some sort of noise abatement provision.

"All I did was ask a question," Lucas said. "There was going to be some money left over for research, specifically for mitigation measures on the Highway 85 corridor. I wanted to know where we stand on that. Some studies have been done, but they haven't been completed."

Lucas and officials of the cities he represents would like to see the portion of Highway 85 that runs through those cities serve as a guinea pig to an experiment that would attempt to quiet down some of the loud traffic that zooms through every day.

Because of the way the highway was built--citizens had a say in how that was done--with high sound walls and a canyon-like path cut through the West Valley, noise actually reverberates louder than it would if it was built another way.

The idea for noise mitigation was explored first in 1996, when Caltrans commissioned Acentech to look into ways it could reduce some of the noise. The solutions, Acentech found, were to limit speed to 55 mph, resurface the highway with something quieter than grooved concrete or build higher sound walls.

But that was the end of the discussion on the subject. Now, however, it appears some money may be available and West Valley cities are pushing for some of it again.

Lucas said that the ground cover of vines and ivy that was planted along the highway is just beginning to creep up and over the walls now, which may help noise absorption.

He was told, however, that resurfacing the highway would be difficult because of the great expense and that the material laid over the concrete may not even stick.

"Grooved concrete is noisy," Lucas said, "but it was laid because it's the strongest and safest.

"Some money from Measure A and B is earmarked for 'enhancement'," Lucas said, adding that "enhancement" translates to environmental improvements, including noise abatement.

"I wanted to know if there is money available, and if so, how about a continuation of the studies for the cities?" he said, adding that the question caused some "hemming and hawing" from many on the county's panel.

Measures A and B were approved by voters in 1996. Measure A was an advisory measure outlining specific transportation improvements around the county including light rail expansion, highway widening and Caltrain improvements.

Measure B was a 1/2 cent sales tax also approved by voters for general county use for transportation projects.

The county Board of Supervisors has oversight of the money--totaling some $561 million for various highway projects--and says it wants to hear from the public on how to spend it. Over the next few weeks, supervisors will hold town meetings to take ideas for refining the draft expenditure program being considered.

Supervisor Donald Gage will hold a meeting June 3 in the Los Gatos City Council Chambers from 7 to 9 p.m. Supervisor Joseph Simitian, who represents Saratoga, will hold a meeting at Mountain View City Hall on June 7 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Saratoga Councilmember Nick Streit has been working to rally Saratoga's troops. There used to be an active citizens' group in the city working on the matter as well, but now seems to be largely defunct.

"If we're silent, nothing's going to happen," Streit said. "We're trying to get citizens to write their supervisors and to get people to the meetings."

The county Board of Supervisors will take final action on spending the money at a public meeting on June 29.
Steve Enders

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Web extra to the June 3-9, 1999 issue of Metro.

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