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[whitespace] Funding for Highway 85 noise reduction approved

West Valley--A few handfuls of citizens from Cupertino to Los Gatos have been quietly pushing long and hard for peace and quiet in their suburban neighborhoods, and it now appears the fight has finally paid off.

On June 29, the county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to earmark $9 million for a pilot project to examine and fix the unusually loud Highway 85 "corridor," a six-mile stretch from Cupertino to Los Gatos.

The allocation was a portion of the Base Case Plan, the outline of how the Valley Transportation Authority will spend nearly $1.4 billion in Measure B funds, a half-cent sales tax passed by voters in 1996.

There's no timetable to spend the money on the highway, and the scope of the project hasn't been defined yet. The only hard data on the highway noise was compiled for Caltrans in 1996 by Acentech, a Southern California contractor.

The VTA is in charge of spending the money, and will have representatives meet with city officials soon to decide what to do next.

The corridor, which seemingly dips below ground and is lined by high sound walls, passes through residential neighborhoods in Cupertino, Saratoga, Campbell and Los Gatos.

In response to local interest the noise has stirred, local city councils and even Assemblyman Jim Cunneen have become involved in letter-writing campaigns and pushing county supervisors to help the VTA find a way to solve the situation.

"We've won the battle, but not the war," a cautious Saratoga Councilman Nick Streit said. "They still need to find a way to mitigate the noise. I just hope they don't blow it on something that doesn't work."

Streit, who is a Saratoga representative to the VTA, said he's also worried that the $9 million might get pushed aside by more extensive and expensive projects.

"It's great that we got the money," he said. "But now, how do we spend it? We need to keep the pressure on so the project gets finished."

While city officials like Streit aren't too surprised the money was allocated, they were slightly miffed that debate ensued over whether Measure B should have been the proper way to bankroll the project.

Many were hoping that the project would have been addressed instead under Measure A funding--another transportation-related sales tax measure, which specifically called for safety improvements on the highway. Since the center guardrail on the highway was built, however, the county claimed the issue had been addressed and was prepared to drop the noise issue, or at least put it on the back burner.

That was, Streit said, until area groups reminded the county that noise and safety issues are written into the Measure B text as well.

The road itself is paved with grooved concrete, which the Acentech study partly blames for creating the high noise levels. Also to blame are the high sound walls along the corridor, which help proliferate the noise.

The solutions, Acentech found, were to limit speed to 55mph, resurface the highway with something quieter than grooved concrete or build higher sound walls. Another option may be to stagger the sound walls.

One option may include a rubberized-asphalt overlay, a composite of broken-up car tires and asphalt that has been shown to be significantly quieter--and safer--than standard cement. Caltrans officials have maintained that the concrete on Highway 85 is too new, and the overlay will peel up from the surface.

Whatever the outcome, Streit said, he urges citizens to stay involved and continue writing letters to make sure the VTA remembers the project.
Steve Enders

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