Clear-plastic noise-barrier walls brighten neighborhoods along Twin Cities-area interstates
LITTLE CANADA, Minn.—Talk about transparency in government.
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has installed clear noise-barrier walls in two locations along freeways. The plastic sheets block the sound as effectively as conventional wooden walls, but allow drivers to see scenery that they would otherwise miss.
"I look at this as a win-win," said Dennis O'Connell, owner of Suburban Auto Body in Little Canada. O'Connell paid $100,000 for a Plexiglas barrier wall along Interstate 35E, so that passing cars would be able to see his business.
Now, he said, neighbors see him as a hero because the clear walls make the area brighter, compared to the impact of the usual 25-foot-tall dark wooden walls.
"People are calling me saying what a great idea it is," said O'Connell. "I don't like having everything walled off. I like seeing the green and the trees."
The walls are believed to be the first in the state, according to Natalie Ries, the MnDOT's Metro Noise and Air Quality supervisor.
The other clear-wall installation is on Interstate 35W over Minnehaha Creek in Minneapolis, south of 50th Street. In that case, said Ries, city officials wanted drivers to see the view of the creek.
Ries said that MnDOT pays up to $25 a square foot for wooden barrier walls. The Plexiglas walls cost more than twice as much, she said, and the additional cost must be paid by someone else.
In Little Canada, that was O'Connell.
He has owned his body-shop business for 35 years, and has counted on being seen by the thousands of cars passing daily. "I bought it for the visibility," he said.
But recently MnDOT notified the neighborhood that it was considering a new barrier wall, and then neighbors voted to approve it.
O'Connell was startled one morning when he saw work-crews cutting down trees and pulling out fences along the interstate.
"They said there was nothing I could do. The wall was going up," said O'Connell. "And I said 'What?' "
O'Connell jumped into action, contacting officials of the state and Little Canada.
He met with them eight times, he said. Finally, he offered to pay the difference for the Plexiglas panels — and the clear wall was installed.
It can be seen on the west side of I-35E, north of the Little Canada Road exit. The Plexiglas panels were installed between 18 vertical beams, and range from a two-foot-high section to one that's about 20 feet tall.
MnDOT's Ries said there is one disadvantage to the walls — they must be cleaned. O'Connell said the city of Little Canada will take care of that.
Ries doesn't think there will be a surge of requests to make the barrier walls clear, because of the cost. But she's open to the idea of more clear walls, if neighbors approve and someone else pays the difference.
For O'Connell, it was money well-spent. "It's pretty good for name recognition," he said.