A multi-billion dollar federal appropriations bill could translate into new noise barriers in Columbia County.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed an $820 billion fiscal appropriations bill Monday. The bill contained a $200,000 line item for noise barriers on the north side of Interstate 20, extending 5,800 feet west from the Belair Road exit.
Traffic noise became an issue for residents of Caliburn Place, Belglade and Crawford Mill subdivisions, which are adjacent to I-20, after a state Department of Transportation reclamation project in November 2001.
Georgia DOT workers cut down several trees that year to create a 50-foot buffer zone to increase driver safety. Soon afterward, homeowners began complaining about the increased traffic noise.
At the time, DOT officials met with residents to tell them there was nothing they could do.
"The noise level didn't meet Federal Highway Administration guidelines for a barrier," DOT engineer Mike Thomas said Wednesday.
Thomas said that unless the noise met a specific decibel level the Highway Administration wouldn't pay for a noise barrier.
"We told them that was the only way we knew of that you could get around that requirement was to get a U.S. Congressman to put it in as a line item," Thomas said.
State Rep. Ben Harbin said he intervened on behalf of the residents and asked Norwood to get federal funding for the project.
Although the bill passed the House, there is still the possibility that Democrats could derail the bill in the Senate.
"The last I heard it didn't look good," said Duke Hipp, Norwood's press secretary. "There's a good chance Democrats could filibuster the bill when they return in January. At a minimum nothing will happen between now and January."
If the Senate passes the bill and President Bush signs it, it could still take a while before a noise barrier is actually constructed.
Columbia County would have little involvement with the project, but county Construction and Maintenance Manager Kevin Lear said erecting the barriers could take as long as two years.
"DOT will have to design the barriers, which could take months," he said. "If they have to do an environmental assessment, that could take months. Construction of the barrier could take as long as six months."
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