Skyline Worry: Noise Walls Along I-277 Stir Debate

Nov 22, 2013

The project to add high occupancy toll lanes on I-77 from uptown Charlotte north to Mooresville will bring more traffic noise to homes and businesses along the road.  So, the DOT wants to build concrete noise walls along several stretches, including northern parts of the 277 loop. It’s that part of the wall that city leaders are concerned could block the view of the uptown skyline. But, as WFAE’s Duncan McFadyen reports, the choice of whether to build the wall or not falls to a handful of residents and property owners.

Sally Beach has lived in the same townhouse for over 18 years. It’s a well-kept green Colonial near the corner of 11th and Poplar in uptown’s Fourth Ward. There’s a quiet courtyard with a fountain out front, but on her back deck, which looks out over I-277, it’s a different story.

“The trucks, I don’t know what they do, they downgrade? And they roar, you hear the ‘grrrrrrrrrrr’ and it just get’s louder and louder," she says. "It sounds like a plane’s landing in your house.”

Beach is among about 120 people who will get to vote yes or no on the wall. Residents in the West End and Sunset Drive areas have already approved similar plans. But the section closest to uptown has become controversial over the past few weeks. It started at the end of October, when the DOT released several renderings of how the walls would look. The drawings show the walls blocking some of the view of uptown for drivers on 277 and for cars and pedestrians on the roads it passes over. The effect is most noticeable around the bridges over Church, Tryon, College, and Brevard streets. City council first saw the mock-ups at its November 11th meeting.

Mayor-elect Patrick Cannon, still a council member, was very concerned.

“We’ve got to be careful about what we do, in terms of just putting things up," he said. "I get the intention – it’s a good intention – but the outcome, the final product, is something that Charlotte does not need.”

Mayor Patsey Kinsey told council members she’s shared similar concerns with Governor McCrory.

“He is not happy about it," she says, "so he’s wanting us to…to stop it.”

The DOT says the walls would reduce the road noise by as much as five decibels for people who live alongside the highway. 

Fourth Ward Neighborhood Association president Greg Johnson says he’s heard from several people who are concerned a 10 foot concrete wall would harm the neighborhood’s historic character. And, like city leaders, they like seeing that skyline as they drive into town. But those who live closer to the interstate seem to be overwhelmingly for it. 

“It does get kind of noisy at night," says Savannah Wright, "I mean obviously the freeway is right here, so I think it would definitely help.”

The 119 people who will decide whether to build the wall or not should get their ballots by the second week in December. Included with those ballots will be copies of the renderings of the noise wall.

The city is hosting two meetings in December where residents and property owners can get more information from state and city planners. The DOT has to finalize its design for the project by January 3rd, 2014.