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A group of residents living next to I-15 are a step closer to getting sound walls.

SB52, sponsored by Senate President Lane Beattie, R-West Bountiful, establishes a fund to be used for construction of sound walls. It has passed both houses of the Legislature and awaits the signature of Gov. Mike Leavitt.There's no money in the fund yet, but Beattie said he's optimistic he'll be able to get some in there before the session's out. North Salt Lake resident Kim Bell, who's been leading the charge for the sound walls, said that's at least a step in the right direction.

"We've made some measurable progress," she said.

According to a Utah Department of Transportation sound wall priority list, the $1.8 North Salt Lake-Woods Cross project is the first in line to get funding. UDOT figures the total cost of the list's 25 sound wall projects to be about $8.7 million.

Rep. Orville Carnahan, R-Salt Lake, sponsored a bill essentially the same as SB52, but he attached a companion bill requesting $5 million to be put into the sound-wall fund. Beattie doubts that bill will survive since each house of the Legislature has only $3 million to dispose of in fiscal notes.

"Anything over a million (for sound walls) would be fantastic," he said.

Beattie said he plans to put money into the sound-wall fund within the regular transportation appropriation bill.

Sen. David Buhler, R-Salt Lake, has sponsored a bill appropriating $2.2 million for sound walls on the east loop of I-215, but it has been tabled in the Senate and isn't likely to go anywhere.

Because of the way sound walls are funded, numerous sound-wall bills are inevitably introduced in every legislative session, and almost as inevitably defeated. UDOT does not finance construction of retro-fit sound walls - walls that aren't part of a current highway installation or expansion project. The money has to come directly from lawmakers, who usually prefer spending money on other things.

Most past bills, like Buhler's, specify a specific location. That makes passage tough sledding since most legislators, predictably, think their own location should be given priority.

Beattie's bill finesses the issue by leaving the decision of where to build to UDOT engineers.

Wasatch Front residents living next to freeways have expressed some frustration that, with all this year's talk of surplus this and tax cut that, they can't get a few paltry million to reduce the continuous din of traffic bombarding their homes and yards.

"Everybody I talk to says, `I don't know why we can't get a wall; they have all that money,' " said Woods Cross resident Leola Mik-kel-sen.

Right now things are looking pretty good for North Salt Lake and Woods Cross residents, but no money has been nailed down yet. And until it does, Mikkelsen's taking everything with a grain of salt.

"Until that first brick gets laid or that first cement gets poured, I won't believe it," she said.

In Woods Cross, the sound walls would be installed on the west side of I-15 from 500 South to 2500 South, and on the east side from 1500 South to 1900 South. In North Salt Lake, the sound walls would go in on the east side of I-15 from the I-215 merge to the 2600 South interchange.

Next on the UDOT sound wall priority list are various locations on the west loop of I-215, then the east loop, then I-80.