LOS ANGELES — Breaking 30 years of delays, state officials earmarked $226 million Thursday to finish desperately needed sound walls on freeways across the San Fernando Valley and state.
The state Transportation Commission, prompted by Gov. Gray Davis, voted to spend the money on 63 unfinished sound walls, including 13 within the Greater San Fernando Valley.
An official announcement is scheduled for today at a press conference in Van Nuys along the San Diego Freeway.
"The sound walls were promised as the freeway system was being built," Davis said in a statement. "Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, 63 projects fell through the cracks and were never completed.
"A promise made is a promise kept — and the time is long overdue to finish construction of the sound walls," he added. "The residents living near the soundwalls have been more than patient."
The battle for sound walls has been fought for 30 years. Funding was supposed to come from a mammoth gas tax increase approved by voters in 1989. Instead, it was diverted to bridge-repair work after the Loma Prieta and Northridge earthquakes.
Since then, numerous efforts by legislators and residents affected by the roar of traffic have failed.
"I gotta tell you, it's about time," said Assemblyman Scott Wildman, D-Glendale, whose two bills to fund soundwalls in his Glendale and Toluca Lake district failed to garner support from Northern California lawmakers.
"It's been a massive community effort. When I was elected four years ago, it became one of the priorities—we had signatures drives, petitions, letters. Finally, after two decades of abuse, this community will finally get their soundwalls."
Frank L. Zugelter, president of the Toluca Lake Homeowners Association, said his home does not back up against the freeway, but that he can still hear the unrelenting sound of morning rush hour traffic.
"It's a nice alarm clock, but who wants an alarm clock all the time?" he said.
Only freeways built after 1974 and those with newly built car-pool lanes are required to have soundwalls, designed to keep noise in neighborhoods below 65 decibels.
While developers of new homes funded soundwalls adjacent to their projects, older homes were ignored by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which was assigned with retrofitting their neighborhoods.
There are currently 400 miles of soundwalls in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, according to the California Department of Transportation. Their cost: $1 million a mile.
Officials expect the new soundwalls to be completed within two years.
"This is a big victory for the Valley, for quality of life," said Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
"I'm happy that what was promised to voters in 1988 is finally being delivered," added David Fleming, who as vice chairman of the Transportation Commission fought for years to attain funding for soundwalls in the Valley.
After years of hoping with no results, Winnik cautiously reserved her elation. "I'm still in shock and I won't believe it until they start breaking ground," she said.