by: JEFF MCDONALD  - Jose and Benita Lara bemoan the loss of privacy and increasing highway sounds and dust resulting from the Woodburn Interchange Project. A new 13-foot sound wall is planned along the stretch marked by red flags, but construction will not begin until spring. Impacts of the Woodburn Interchange Project are getting easier to spot.

Take Benita and Jose Lara’s small home off Rainier Road and Highway 214, for example.

A fence and trees that once separated the Lara home from the highway are no longer there.

In its place, a five-foot, “temporary” fence has been erected until larger sound walls can be put in place starting next spring, according to Oregon Department of Transportation.

“The noise is very strong – we can’t sleep,” said Benita Lara, 65, who has lived in the house with her husband for about 15 years. “Now it’s impossible to live in this place.”

Gone are the plum, fig, peach and apple trees that once protected the home from sights and sounds of the highway. Lara and her husband received $30,000 from ODOT as compensation for the right of way.

But that will not be enough to find a new home and the Lara’s are unsure how they will be able to sell their home.

Construction of five 13- to 18-foot sound walls at points east, west and north along Interstate 5 had originally been planned to coincide with the beginning of the project, but has been delayed until spring by right-of-way negotiations and utility relocations, said Lou Torres, ODOT’s Salem-based public information officer.

“The contractor didn’t have much choice,” Torres said. “Without these parts of the project being completed, there was not much flexibility.”

Once completed, the sound walls will be constructed using more aesthetically-pleasing concrete block materials that will integrate with the surroundings and provide a buffer from noise, Torres said.

Residents on Rainier Road will be impacted on both sides of their homes – by the construction noise and dust off Highway 214 and potentially by vehicles taking Rainier Road as an alternative route to the traffic.

Local real estate agent Lorrie Cox of Woodburn Homes Realty knew the sound walls were coming when she and her husband bought a quarter-acre property on Rainier Road nine years ago, she said.

She said the next six months to a year will be tough, but the sound walls will eventually help drive up real estate values along the street.

“I think there’s a real fear of buying on Rainier at this point,” she said. “But once the wall is up, it will be a huge advantage.”

Other construction concerns at the interchange project include the potential removal of two large sequoia trees at the east end of the project.

Homeowners in adjacent properties have already been compensated for the loss of the trees, Torres said, but ODOT plans to seek city approval before it removes the trees.

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