Wednesday, March 15, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Sound walls on highway

The state Highway Department is considering placing sound barriers in front of several residential areas along Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville as part of a $200 million widening project going toward Cabot. The proposed walls could go up near the freeway between Bart Gray Realty and City Motors, in front of the Pine Meadow trailer park near the air base and elsewhere.

The city council is expected to ask for a 60-day comment period when it meets on Thursday. City officials don’t want unsightly barriers going up along the highway as they’re seeking new businesses to move into vacant areas.

Residents are being polled about the barriers, but retailers have been told there will be no walls going up near them that could impede access to their businesses.

Widening of the highway to six lanes and reconfiguring its access roads to one way are  seen as giving Jacksonville an opportunity to attract new businesses and revitalize old ones as much as improving traffic and drivers’ safety.

City officials hope the highway work will help bring in big-name restaurants and perhaps some new hotels.

Highway Department officials met last Thursday at the Jacksonville Community Center with residents and business owners who live and work along Hwy. 67/167 to discuss the proposed noise walls. The Monday prior, the governor signed a bill that would allow Jacksonville and Sherwood to hold a special election to let voters decide if restaurants should be allowed to sell liquor by the glass.

The noise walls, if installed, should not hide from view the community center and the $60 million Jacksonville High School, which will be built behind Crain Ford at the old middle school site on Main Street.

The new high school site was chosen for its visibility from Hwy. 67/167 that would make a statement to drivers about the community’s commitment to education and its belief in the future. Any barriers should be kept to a minimum and only placed in neighborhoods that want them.

The noise walls could do a lot to protect the quality of life of thousands of Jacksonville residents whose homes are near the highway. Their concerns should be considered before dismissing them as hindering economic activity. 

There are ways to install the noise walls that will spur economic growth and reduce noise pollution with lower walls that aren’t unsightly but achieve the same goal: Improving the quality of life without building a hideous wall that would make Jacksonville look like a border region.