Update February 25, 2019
Final Vista Oaks Sound Wall Update
After four years, almost to the exact day, the Vista Oaks Sound Wall has finally become a reality. The project was initiated on February 24, 2015, when I, along with a small group of other S. Summercrest Loop property owners, attended the Vista Oaks Home Owners Association Annual Meeting to voice concerns regarding the impact that an ever expanding RM 1431 was having on our Vista Oaks neighborhood. At the time, westbound RM 1431 lanes were being added to the highway for the second time since I purchased my S. Summercrest Loop Property. With each added lane, the highway traffic moved closer and closer to the homes on S. Summercrest Loop and with each move closer, the traffic noise increased dramatically to the point that backyards could hardly be used at certain times of the day. The following pre-wall pictures are very telling:
This picture, taken at eye level from a S. Summercrest Loop patio, shows truck traffic on RM 1431. The existing red brick wall dominates the foreground of the picture.
This picture was taken from the same S. Summercrest Loop patio and shows RM 1431 truck traffic as seen over the vine covered red brick wall and fence on the west side of the property.
This picture shows a view of S. Summercrest Loop neighborhood homes as seen from RM 1431. Also shown is a concrete storm drain which is located near the east end of S. Summercrest Loop and runs from the street to the highway. Notice that there is a gap in the existing red brick wall that creates a pathway for highway noise penetration deep into our neighborhood and permits children playing on our streets direct access onto the highway. The patios and rear windows of all the homes on this side of S. Summercrest Loop face directly onto RM 1431 with nothing to block the noise except the existing red brick wall and trees and shrubs. Historical studies show that trees and vegetation do not help much and the existing wall is too low to be effective. These conditions, which affect the saleability and value of these homes, were greatly exacerbated by the addition of westbound lanes to RM 1431.
This was the starting point for the sound wall project and the beginning of a quest for neighborhood tranquility that would last four years.
Early in the project, after months of meetings and discussions with the City of Cedar Park and Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), TxDOT acknowledged, on May 14, 2015, that our Vista Oaks neighborhood had been accidentally overlooked when the environmental impact studies were performed for the RM 1431 expansion. Despite federal laws and TxDOT internal operating procedures mandating it, no environmental study had been undertaken to determine the impact of the RM 1431 expansion on Vista Oaks. Over the next year, a study commissioned by TxDOT confirmed that a serious noise problem did exist for our neighborhood and TxDOT proposed a noise abatement wall (sound wall) which property owners on the south side of S. Summercrest Loop overwhelmingly approved through a formal vote conducted by TxDOT. The results of the vote were certified by TxDOT on May 10, 2016.
Subsequent to the vote, the Consultants that worked on the RM 1431 expansion were engaged by TxDOT and Cedar Park to design the sound wall but these efforts were hampered by a lack of funding and clear direction since the sound wall project was overlooked in the original RM 1431 expansion project. These issues were finally resolved at a high level TxDOT Austin District management meeting that I requested and attended on June 16, 2017. The wall design was materially complete by September, 2017 – after significant input from the representative of the property owners that approved the wall (me). The goal at the time was to award the contract to build the sound wall in early 2018. Due to endangered species habitat damage concerns, United States Fish and Wildlife Department became involved in the sound wall project and the contract to build the wall was not actually awarded until late May, 2018. Pedernales Electric Co-op and other utility companies had to relocate poles, lines, and other assets to make way for the sound wall and the awarded contractor began sound wall construction in late October 2018. The sound wall was completed in early February, 2019. Below are some pictures taken during wall construction and pictures of the completed wall.
I am confident that this sound wall exceeds the noise reduction and esthetic goals specified in Texas regulations that govern state highway projects. As the TxDOT Regional Noise Specialist told me, “No sound wall or noise abatement measure can completely eliminate all noise, but you will be able to sleep at night.” The wall he helped design went well beyond the minimums required by Texas regulations so our sound wall should be more effective than most. I hope that it meets our goal of a more tranquil neighborhood. I am also hopeful that the sound wall will diminish the visual intrusion into our S. Summercrest Loop neighborhood of the power distribution lines LCRA plans to locate on the south side of RM 1431 – just across the highway from the sound wall.
As the sound wall project concludes, so also concludes my commitment to the S. Summercrest Loop property owners that approved the construction of the sound wall. It has been an honor to represent and speak for you these past several years. I will always be grateful for the opportunity to give back, in some small way, to our community and to a system that has afforded me so much personal success over so many years. Many thanks to the Vista Oaks HOA Board of Directors for their support of the sound wall project. The emails and words of encouragement from some of the Directors has been very much appreciated. My Vista Oaks property was sold last year so I no longer have much of an excuse for spending time in my “old neighborhood” in the future. It was a great time for my wife and I and our grandkids when we lived there and Vista Oaks is still a great place to live and raise a family. Finally, I wish to thank the people at TxDOT, RPS Group (wall design consultants), and Pedernales Electric Co-op (electric line relocation and traffic signal work at Royal Vista Blvd). Their patience, tenacity, expertise, and professionalism were displayed daily as we all worked to recover from a simple, but costly, misstep early in the planning of the RM 1431 expansion – failure to include Vista Oaks in the original environmental study. The sound wall cost nearly $800,000 to build and the entire cost was borne by TxDOT. I hope the TxDOT and RPS Group people are as proud of the sound wall they designed and built as I am.
Take care and God bless.
Update October 3, 2018
A few details of events along the way follow for those of you who are closely tracking the project:
You probably remember that I mentioned in my early August update that TxDOT was requesting a Right of Entry document from our HOA Board of Directors. The document was discussed at the July 31st 2018 Board meeting and Director Pat Cassidy offered a resolution to send the document to the HOA attorney for legal review. Pat’s resolution also authorized our Board President to sign the document once the legal review was complete. I am happy to tell you that every Director present at the meeting voted in the affirmative and the resolution was swiftly implemented. Our property manager, Teffani Davis, handled the interface with our HOA attorney and the legal review was completed in record time. Our HOA President, Glenda Rutten, then signed the document and forwarded it to TxDOT. All this was done in a very expeditious way. A big thank you to Glenda Rutten, Teffani Davis, and Pat Cassidy.
In my August update, I also told you that Pedernales Electric Co-Op had completed the move of their electric wires to the new utility poles and that we were waiting on Time Warner (now Spectrum) to move their cables. Believe it or not we are still waiting on Time Warner/Spectrum and have been since late May. Following the exchange of harsh words over the past couple of weeks, we finally saw some action from Time Warner/Spectrum this past weekend ( see below picture from Saturday, September 29, 2018).
Within the past couple of weeks, TxDOT Management and I looked at sound wall panel mockups made from the same molds (they are actually called formliners) that will be used to make our wall panels. The mockups were only about 5 feet long whereas our panels will be 20 feet long. I think you will be pleased with the simulated limestone pattern on the panels. The original plan was to mold a highly visible limestone pattern deep into the concrete on the side of the panel facing RM 1431 and to stamp the pattern into the panel on the side facing the property owners. This means that the side of the wall panels facing the property owners would have a pattern but it would not be as deeply cut into the panel and therefore would not be as close in appearance to a natural limestone wall as the RM 1431 side would be. The mockups we reviewed had the same deep pattern on both sides of the wall panels so our panels should be pretty nice even when viewed from property owners backyards. (see pictures below).
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if I can answer any questions or add anything further at this time. Please keep in mind that any projected timeline comes with the usual “weather permitting” and “unforeseen circumstances” caveats and let me know quickly, once construction begins, if issues arise or if you see anything that concerns you..
Update June 4, 2018
Pedernales Electric Cooperative has finished installing all the new utility poles. The picture below shows PEC sub-contractors installing the final new pole just east of Royal Vista Blvd.
The new electricity lines have also been installed on the poles. The next step is for the telecom and cable companies to move their wires from the old poles to the new poles. Once this is complete, PEC will have all the old poles removed which will clear the area where the Sound Wall will be installed. Pole removal should not take more than a few days once the telecom and cable lines are moved.
Texas Department of Transportation continues to make their commitments as also outlined in my previous post. True to their word, TxDOT advertised the Sound Wall project during the month of April, soliciting bits from potential wall construction contractors. Eight qualified contractors responded with construction bids ranging from just over $800,000 to just under $1, 800,000. See bid tabulation:
Over the three year period mentioned above, TxDOT acknowledged that the initial environmental studies were incomplete; commissioned additional studies which confirmed that a serious noise problem did exist; proposed that a Sound Wall be built and solicited, through a balloting process, the approval of the impacted S. Summercrest Loop property owners to build the wall (it was approved by an overwhelming margin of impacted property owners); designed the Sound Wall with considerable input from the representative of most of the impacted property owners (me); worked with United States Fish and Wildlife Service (which was short of critical staff at the time) to insure compliance with the federal Endangered Species Act; and, finally, budgeted $1.1 million for the construction of the wall. At our urging, TxDOT also expedited the installation of a traffic signal at Royal Vista Blvd and RM 1431 in 2016 to address complaints we had received regarding VO residents fear for life and limb as they exited and entered our neighborhood from/to RM 1431.
The Sound Wall will be constructed from Royal Vista Blvd, along the north side of RM 1431, west to the drainage easement just east of the Life Storage facility. The Sound Wall will be located about twenty two feet closer to RM 1431 than our existing brick wall and will, on average, extend about six feet higher. It has been designed by TxDOT consultants to meet TxDOT specifications for noise attenuation, appearance, strength, and durability (see pictures below of a similar Sound Wall built in Pflugerville).
Pedernales Electric Cooperative (PEC) contractors are currently on site relocating utility poles and wires to make way for the Sound Wall. PEC believes this will be completed within 2-3 weeks unless rain makes some part of the site inaccessible. PEC management also has stated that they do not anticipate any lengthy power outages for VO residents during the relocation process.
TxDOT, working with outside consultants, has completed the package of documents and specifications necessary for soliciting bids from their list of approved vendors for the construction of the Sound Wall. The construction project will be advertised for bids during the month of April, 2018 and TxDOT plans to open the bids and notify the low bid vendor at their May, 2018 vendor meeting. That meeting is scheduled for May 1 and 2, 2018. TxDOT will then submit the project to the Texas Transportation Commission for approval which normally takes place at the Commission meeting at the end of the month in which the bids are opened. Following Commission approval, TxDOT and the low bid vendor will enter into a series of standard steps (execute contracts, create and approve shop drawings, etc.) that could take 2 to 3 additional months to complete.
Once the Notice to Proceed is issued by TxDOT, the vendor must then marshal the resources and materials required to construct the wall. As you can see, it will likely be September, 2018 or even later before we see actual “boots on the ground” in the construction effort.
Please email me at email@example.com if you have questions or if I can help further in any way.