Berkeley inched closer this week toward building a signature sound barrier – a “living wall” – to shelter Aquatic Park from the rumble of Interstate 80.
The Alameda County Congestion Management Agency, made up of representatives from each of the Alameda County cities and transportation agencies, voted unanimously Thursday to seriously consider spending funds for the pyramid-shaped wall that would be filled with soil into which flowers and shrubs would be planted.
Having rejected the Department of Transportation’s standard concrete-block wall when the freeway-building agency widened the interstate that cuts through Berkeley several years ago, the city opted to build the living wall.
Several months ago, however, Caltrans set off alarm bells when it announced that its engineers estimated the cost for the living wall at twice the $3.5 million the agency set aside for the project.
The city responded by having its committee of volunteer engineers and architects evaluate the project. The committee said Caltrans engineers were wrong when they said that the wall needed piles driven 50 feet into the earth to make the wall earthquake safe – doubling the cost of the project.
The piles would actually make the wall less safe, the committee said, noting that such a wall, in any case, would not threaten life or limb if disturbed by a major quake.
The Congestion Management Agency holds the purse strings to the project. Thursday, agency members voted unanimously to adopt a resolution that was put before it by a 7-0 vote of the Berkeley City Council in a special Wednesday afternoon meeting. Vice Mayor Maudelle Shirek and Councilmember Polly Armstrong were absent from the meeting.
Key to the CMA decision was the agreement to select an independent engineer to study the project. “Caltrans, Berkeley and the CMA will mutually agree upon selection of the consulting engineer,” the resolution said.
The resolution also allows time beyond the original June cut-off date for the decision to be made. The timeline is as follows:
• The CMA and Caltrans will develop a conceptual design for a living wall by June 15.
• The design consultant will develop a cost estimate for the project by July 15.
• Berkeley will make modifications to the conceptual design recommended by the design consultant by Aug. 15.
• Based on input from Berkeley officials, the consultant will finalize the design and cost estimates by Sept. 15.
• If no agreement is reached by Oct. 1, the CMA Board will make a decision on the type of noise barrier to be constructed and have Caltrans build that barrier.