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Hillsborough board hopes fed can deliver noise wall for unshielded span of I-275

Several neighbors on the stretch between Hillsborough Ave. and Busch Blvd. say the constant noise is disruptive and irritating
DTBF I275 wall Chad Mills WFTS.png
Posted at 7:24 AM, Mar 15, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-15 07:26:37-04

TAMPA, Fla. — Residents and Hillsborough County transportation leaders are hopeful that the federal government can deliver on a noise barrier to a busy portion of I-275 where there isn't one currently.

Whether she’s walking her dog or enjoying the vibrant flower beds outside her home in Old Seminole Heights, there’s an annoying constant in Justine Melchor’s life: the roar of I-275.

“I wear hearing aids, and I take them out, but you just have to yell,” said Melchor, as even the post-rush hour traffic made conversation along North Taliaferro Avenue difficult. “It’s atrociously loud. We sit out front a lot, because you can’t talk out back.”

Years ago, Melchor put up a wooden privacy fence around her backyard, but it only does so much.

“You can see the traffic over my fence,” she said, as she pointed out the flow of traffic clearly visible and easily audible.

While other stretches of I-275 have concrete noise barriers, which shelter homes from some of the noise, there isn’t one behind Melchor’s home or elsewhere along a three three-mile stretch of the interstate in central Tampa, from Hillsborough Avenue to Busch Boulevard.

Harry Cohen, a Hillsborough County Commissioner and chair of the Hillsborough Transportation Planning Organization (TPO), said the omission is problematic, especially since some of the neighborhoods include “concentrations of minority residents or low-income residents.”

“It’s become an issue that everyone on our board is concerned about,” Cohen told ABC Action News.

According to Cohen, the TPO has lobbied the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) to erect noise barriers on I-275 from Hillsborough Avenue to Busch Boulevard. However, government red tape has prevented such construction.

According to a letter FDOT sent the TPO last month, a noise barrier can only be added: “when roadway improvements are planned that increase capacity.” In other words, because no expansion work is happening on the span of I-275 where a wall is absent, FDOT can’t technically add, or retrofit, the area with noise barriers.

“The State of Florida does not have a retrofit program that allows the expenditure of state or federal funds for existing noise impacts,” the letter continued.

Days ago, hoping to cut through the red tape, Cohen and the TPO went up the chain of command. Members signed a letter to the Federal Highway Administration asking for federal intervention.

“We kindly request your administration’s assistance in working with the Florida Department of Transportation to collaboratively create new solutions addressing past discriminatory planning decisions for what today is I-275 through central Tampa,” the letter asked.

Cohen hopes the push for solutions will yield results.

“It can be frustrating waiting for these letters, but the fact of the matter is, you get them into the right hands, and you can really move the ball,” he said. “We want to make sure that everybody, regardless of socioeconomic status, is protected from the sounds and sights of the expressway.”

Melchor hopes that will be the case and a noise wall will come.

“Oh, it would be a godsend,” she said. “Even if it (reduced) half the noise would be a godsend.”

Otherwise, she fears the noise might force some neighbors to give up, pack up, and move.