This little piece appeared online today at the website of our dear litle daily newspaper:
It costs more than twice as much as a traditional sound wall and, if all goes well, will look like a giant Chia Pet towering over the interstate.
But will it screen out the sound of cars whizzing by? No one knows for sure.
Still, the Ohio Department of Transportation is moving ahead with a proposal to install a 400-foot "green" sound wall along one side of I-70 near Pataskala this fall.
"It's a research project that we have initiated," said Scott Varner, spokesman for the state transportation agency. "There's still a lot of questions."
State transportation officials admit that the new sound wall -- made of dirt and plants as opposed to concrete, wood or Plexiglas -- is an untested concept in Ohio or anywhere else. Cold weather or salty runoff from the interstate could ruin the vegetation; excessive rain could cause the wall to erode into the road.
Then there's the cost.
The price tag for the 400-foot wall is estimated at $300,000, which comes to nearly $4 million per mile. A traditional concrete sound wall costs about $1.5 million per mile. The see-through acrylic walls that are popping up in parts of the state -- such as a stretch of I-71 in the Polaris area -- are priced at about $2.4 million per mile.
But the soil-and-plants wall, standing 12 feet high, could muffle road noise while also cleaning the air and looking more natural than a concrete barrier.
"Ohio is willing to treat this as a research opportunity to measure the sound reduction based on different types of vegetation," said Anna Schiessl, operations manager for British Columbia-based Deltalok, the company picked to build the wall. "They'll be using different types of vegetation every 100 feet."
Among the types of vegetation planned for the Ohio wall: wild bergamot, Indian grass, brown-eyed Susan, ryegrass and dotted St. John's wort.
Deltalok is building another "green" sound wall in its home city, Vancouver, later this summer. But the company can't point to any precedents for the Ohio project.
In the mid-1990s, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation built a sound wall out of plastic, soil and plants near Milwaukee that lasted about two years before weeds and erosion forced its removal.
Schiessl said the technology behind the Wisconsin experiment was "completely different" from Deltalok's planned sound walls in Vancouver and central Ohio. The new walls are designed to last at least 75 years, she said.
They also should be effective in absorbing road noise, said Joel M. Lerner, founder of Environmental Design, a landscape consulting firm in suburban Washington.
"A sound barrier has to be dense enough that there are no openings -- that's the key," Lerner said. "That's all it takes -- one little opening -- for the sound to just pour through."
Lerner called the concept "very innovative," saying he'd never heard of anything like it before. But as for whether the wall will survive Ohio's heavy rain and snow and other extremes of weather, he couldn't say.
Neither could Varner.
"It's more of a research project than a construction project," the state transportation spokesman said.
I just love the way our various government entities throw money at anything anybody says "might " work without any actual proof of anyone trying this idea out privately. Why do we need to have, in this state and economy, an untried idea suddenly have a large amount of our money thrown at it without a shred of proof that it is anything more than a dubious waste.