Elmer H. Birch doesn't ask much from the state, just some peace and quiet.
Since the southwest leg of I-215 was completed a year ago, the roar of traffic has steadily increased to the point where an 8-foot retaining wall he built several years ago doesn't shut out noise anymore."We used to enjoy our patio so much in the summer. Now that's a thing of the past," he says.
The future doesn't look so bright either for Birches. They fear the value of their home will drop because of the noise, lopping off a large chunk of expected retirement income.
What would correct the problem, Birch and his neighbors believe, are sound barriers - tall concrete walls lining the freeway. The walls have worked for residents on the newly completed stretch of I-215, but the older, more populated section between 3300 South and 3900 South remains barrierless.
"It's discrimination. Our ears are just as sensitive as theirs," Birch said of residents living along the new section of I-215.
Resident Craig Goodrich, who has spearheaded the push for sound walls, said the tire noise from the freeway drowns out someone's voice 6 feet away.
Last week Birch, Goodrich and about 18 other residents took their case to the Utah Transportation Commission for the second time this year. But about the most positive response they got came from commission chairman Sam Taylor. "We will keep it on the front burner," he said.
The Utah Department of Transportation told the commission that sound walls cost $1 million a mile and only new construction or reconstruction projects qualify for the funding. In other words, UDOT doesn't have a policy or funding to build sound barriers on existing roads, even if noise levels warrant the walls.
But if UDOT ever adopts a policy to deal with sound abatement on existing highways, it should only put forth $500,000 toward each project and have local funds cover the rest, said UDOT preconstruction engineer Les Jester.
He explained the state simply doesn't have the money to erect sound walls along the 72 miles of existing freeway that need them.
Residents didn't like that option. "A local match would be a barrier to getting anything done," said Sen.-elect Ronald J. Ockey, R-Salt Lake. "If property is assessed to get the matching funds, then (residents) get a double hit. These people didn't ask for the freeway, they were there before the freeway."
Ockey explained that the commission should consider correcting problems caused by a freeway as part of the cost of obtaining the right-of-way to build the road.
On Monday, Ockey said he will look at other possible state funding sources and possibly legislation that would direct money toward solving the problem.
Meantime, UDOT has erected signs along the freeway warning trucks not to use "jake brakes," which blast a deep roar from the engine when applied. The sign is along a level section, however, and residents question whether it is enforced.
"They did it as a show of good faith that they are working on the problem," Goodrich said.